CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison last week greeted new faculty members and staff — and welcomed those returning to campus — at her annual fall welcome address, Aug. 22 at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Performing Arts (The Soraya).
In kicking off the 2019-20 academic year that began Aug. 24, Harrison set a tone of inspiration and challenge, reflecting the determined attitude on campus focused on student success, retention and students’ progress toward graduation.
“Students are the reason we exist. The passion, intelligence and drive of our students never ceases to amaze me and inspire me,” Harrison said. “It is what unifies us and provides the mission we pursue each and every day. I see the commitment to our students in every corner of this campus.
“We will be welcoming approximately 12,047 new students this fall, and 26,381 who are returning to us, all looking for inspiration, for the support to help them achieve their education goals,” she said. “I am grateful to all of you (faculty, staff and administrators) for the tremendous work that you do for our students and their success. You provide life-changing opportunities to them and to their families, and the entire region.”
Harrison devoted most of her remarks to sharing the progress and continuing opportunities of Matadors Rising, the campus-wide initiative to help more CSUN students to graduate on time and realize their dreams and aspirations, while eliminating the opportunity or equity gap between better-served and traditionally underserved students.
“We’ve made progress in closing the graduation equity gaps with our transfer students especially,” she said. “The most recent four-year graduation rate for transfers has a less than 2 percentage point gap between better-served and traditionally underserved students. We can close that gap by graduating 37 more students from traditionally underserved backgrounds within four years. For our two-year rate for transfer students, we do not have a gap.”
Her speech, titled “United in Our Commitment to Student Success,” reiterated the university’s planning priorities — from student success to research and sustainability, with particular focus throughout on academic achievement and boosting graduation rates.
“This summer, we opened the Matador Advising Hub to serve most of our incoming freshmen,” Harrison said. “This team is providing comprehensive, centralized advisement. The advisors in The Hub come from across the campus and have been working closely with the college advisors to get our new students on the right path. Centralized advising is a best practice at peer institutions that has been successful in increasing retention, reducing equity gaps and improving time to graduation.”
Harrison cited data to highlight the significant gains made toward increasing graduation rates, while also showing the gaps that still remain. The six-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen increased more than 7 percent to 54 percent from the fall 2008 cohort to the fall 2012 cohort. For transfer students, the four-year graduation rate increased slightly — more than 2 percent to 76.1 percent from fall 2010 to fall 2014.
“We have more work to do, but if we can keep these trends going, we will graduate more students from CSUN,” she said.
“The incoming freshman class is the first in the six-year class for GI 2025,” she said, referencing the graduation goals for the year 2025 set forth by the CSU Chancellor’s Office and the CSU Board of Trustees (at CSUN, known as Matadors Rising). “Every one of our students matters, of course, but every freshman we can retain from this year’s class is critical. We have been ramping up for this moment. … We are asking that all of us come together with a common purpose, to accelerate our activity to remove barriers, eliminate opportunity gaps and provide opportunity for those who want to graduate.”
Harrison highlighted a few of the hundreds of CSUN accomplishments and milestones that occurred during the past academic year — and the exciting initiatives already underway for 2019-20.
Biology professor Mary-Pat Stein, president of the Faculty Senate, opened the program by welcoming new faculty members, staff and leadership, including Mary Beth Walker, the new provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. Diana Vicente, president of Associated Students, also gave an inspirational greeting on behalf of CSUN’s students — and shared her own family’s immigrant story from Mexico City to Southern California.
“This is a dream come true, and I still can’t believe it,” Vicente said of her student government presidency. “During my [Associated Students] training, someone said to me, ‘You are planting the seed for the shade tree that you will never get to enjoy.’ We are doing the work for the students that we might never get to meet, but we still do it and we dedicate ourselves 100 percent to it, and that in itself is rewarding.
“Thank you, CSUN, for giving me a home,” Vicente said. “Thank you, staff, for having open doors. Thank you, faculty, for pushing us every day to do more than what we’re asked for. And thank you to my wonderful team at Associated Students.”
For the full text or to watch a video of President Harrison’s address, go to https://www.csun.edu/president/2019-welcome-address.