Sacramento State’s mission statement says it all: “As California’s Capital University, we transform lives by preparing students for leadership, service, and success.”
We have not only an overriding objective but also a focused purpose. We are absolutely committed to graduating as many students as we can, as quickly as we can, with the most outstanding education that we can provide.
We have had a long history of fulfilling that purpose. One out of every 20 residents in the area is a Sacramento State graduate. As our “Made at Sac State” campaign proves, our graduates are among the most important CEOs, civic and law enforcement leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, health care providers, engineers and teachers in the state.
We must, however, do better. While our graduation rate for transfer students has improved to 72 percent, our four-year graduation rate (9 percent) and even our six-year graduation rate (42 percent) are unacceptably low. Positive steps have been taken, such as mandatory freshmen advising and bolstered tutoring and mentoring, and yet too many of our sophomores and juniors are dropping out, even after prospering during their freshman year.
Key science facilities and labs are outdated and inadequate, and we have too many obstacles and bottlenecks that slow our students’ time to degree. And, sadly, too many students are leaving with too many loans.
We at Sacramento State – and I in particular as I take office Wednesday as the university’s president – are committed to improving our graduation rates and our retention rates and to reducing our students’ time to degree. I am committed to private fundraising for a new science building and events center and for renovating other buildings. We are committed to seeing that our students graduate with less debt and to creating jobs for them once they do graduate.
How are we going to succeed?
First, we are going to work with our academic advisers to put students’ degree plans online. We are going to work with department chairpersons and deans to ensure that the classes needed for timely graduation are available.
Second, we will increase the number of classes offered in off-peak hours so that students have more choices. We will add high-quality online courses for students who cannot attend traditional classes.
Third, we will work with employers, cities and counties and chambers of commerce to increase internships and service-learning opportunities. We will support our career center and the on-campus employment of our students.
Why will we succeed?
Sacramento State is a great university. Alexander Gonzalez and the other former presidents have built a great foundation. More importantly, we have dedicated faculty and staff committed to excellence. I saw that dedication at graduation, and see it every time I walk the campus. We also have tremendous support in the community. Local charities and churches are there to support us as we support them. The “Sacramento 3.0” and Next Economy initiatives are frameworks for even more partnerships to foster economic prosperity.
But what, in my opinion, makes us most incredibly strong and most likely to succeed is our diversity. Diversity brings strength and offers multiple perspectives and thus multiple solutions. It is time to celebrate that diversity, to celebrate that Sacramento State is the 15th most diverse university in the West. We cannot succumb to the bigotry, small-mindedness and inhumanity that we have seen in South Carolina and Colorado.
Our diversity will allow us to become the true hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology envisioned by Sacramento 3.0. And our diversity will provide the creativity that the initiative needs to become truly transformational.
There are great times ahead for the capital city and region, for California and for the capital’s university. I look forward to working with our partners in the public and private sectors, Sacramento State’s faculty, the community colleges, the high schools and grade schools, and the community to make a great city and region even greater. As we say on campus, “Stingers Up!”
Robert S. Nelsen is the eighth permanent president of California State University, Sacramento.