Dear campus community,
As always, the summer went by quickly, and I hope that all found time to do whatever you had hoped whether that be travel and time with friends, research and writing, or simply doing nothing. It has been a joy the last couple of weeks to watch the campus come back to life. Yes, we continue to navigate the pandemic, but as I survey the horizon, I see so much to be excited about.
As I mentioned in my Convocation address, we welcome over 24,000 students this fall, most of whom will be engaged in on-campus classes and activities. Among these are 6,000 new students taking first steps toward their degree objectives and more than 6,000 starting their last year as SF State students looking ahead to careers and graduate school. I am keenly aware of both the daunting responsibility to serve these students and the incredible joy of our mission.
Our mission to provide access to world-class degrees to all – particularly those historically underserved by higher education – and to facilitate the successful completion of their educational goals and degrees, makes us a truly special university. For too long, though, universities have been measured by other metrics that largely reflect the wealth of their students. (I encourage those interested in the history of college rankings to listen to Malcom Gladwell’s podcast on the subject.) Earlier in August, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona penned an op ed outlining a ”A New Vision for College Excellence.” Noting the impact that a college education can have on students like himself who are the first in their families to attend college, he applauded universities like ours and our sister institutions in the California State University system. These universities, he noted, “get little glory” but are driving “some of the most important innovations in higher education today” and “are narrowing gaps in access to college opportunity and accelerating their graduates’ economic mobility.” What a welcome and long overdue recognition of our work!
Third Way, a national think tank, has taken this idea further and advocates for rankings that reward universities for providing access, degree attainment and demonstrated paths to upward economic mobility. Affirming the value of higher education as a public good that promises economic mobility, Third Way proposes using an Economic Mobility Index (EMI) to rank universities. Using this measure, the universities in the CSU shine. SF State ranks in the top 50 institutions in the U.S. for economic mobility while traditionally highly ranked institutions like Harvard and Stanford find themselves far lower (ranked 847 and 841 respectively). SF State enjoys this recognition while also being home to programs nationally ranked for their academic excellence. We demonstrate that academic excellence and educational equity can be and must be achieved simultaneously.
In this spirit, I challenge us all to do even better. As I said in my Convocation address and elsewhere, it is unacceptable that this University with its historic role and relentless commitment to social justice graduates less than half of our Black and Latinx freshmen. Changing this will require bold new steps like one-stop advising, a demonstrated commitment to using inclusive pedagogies, and building a rich campus experience for students. As always, I look forward to continuing this work with the entire community.
I urge all to spend time on the mall, as I have these last two weeks, meeting and speaking with students. Their passion for SF State is palpable. Their desire to succeed here and leave SF State stronger than they found it is inspirational. It is going to be a good year!
Wishing all a great semester!
Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.