In July, Cal State San Marcos President Ellen Neufeldt was invited to attend National Summit on Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, hosted by the U.S. Department of Education.
The event convened senior officials in the Biden-Harris Administration and education leaders from across the country to discuss innovative strategies and resources for colleges to expand resources to higher ed.
Neufeldt attended as a representative of not only CSUSM, but the entire 23-campus California State University, and she was one of only two invited leaders representing regional public universities. As she chatted with other officials throughout the day, she talked about some of the practices that CSUSM is modeling to advance student success.
And she was pleased, but not necessarily surprised, to discover that the university’s reputation already was well known in the halls of the Department of Education.
The secret is out. Almost a year after a prominent online publication ranked CSUSM first out of 1,400 schools nationally in the social mobility of its students, the university is increasingly being recognized as a place where students of all backgrounds and income levels thrive, both before and after graduation.
Neufeldt spoke with pride about the subject during her annual Report to the Community address on Sept. 26 on campus before a capacity crowd of about 350 business, education, government and nonprofit leaders from North County and beyond.
“Whether in the halls of D.C., the chambers of Sacramento or right here in our region, I love talking about Cal State San Marcos and our unwavering commitment to social mobility,” Neufeldt said. “Not only as a moral and ethical imperative, but an economic and workforce pipeline necessary for our region, state and nation.”
CSUSM this fall welcomed the largest first-year class in its 34-year history, and that group was culled from nearly 20,000 applications, a 50% increase from the previous high in 2018. And all those students evidently are enjoying their time on campus more than ever, as CSUSM recently was ranked 12th in the country for student experience by the Wall Street Journal, based on a methodology that reflects the perceptions of students and alumni related to aspects of student life.
While calling the No. 1 ranking in social mobility a “wonderful surprise,” Neufeldt added: “Let me be clear – we don’t do it for the accolades. We do it for our students, their families and communities, and the industries that will benefit from the knowledge and skills imparted to our graduates. That’s how we define social mobility and, for us, that’s what our work together is all about.”
In other highlights from the Report to the Community speech:
• CSUSM is in discussions with potential donors for a proposal to introduce new accelerated and dual enrollment pathways so that students as young as high school can take classes toward a degree.
• After a year in which the university added five new district partners to The Alliance, Neufeldt announced a vision to expand the initiative to every school district in the region, including Imperial County, while incorporating living/learning communities to enhance students’ success.
• Through the work of the new military roundtable advisory group, CSUSM has partnered with Camp Pendleton to bring academic programs to the base, including cybersecurity, supply chain management and nursing.
• Nordson Corporation has become the first industry donor for the future Integrated Science and Engineering Building, which will allow CSUSM to grow its engineering program to nearly 2,000 students, thereby meeting CSU and California workforce goals in STEM.
• The university will break ground this winter on the University Village affordable housing and dining complex, which is being funded in part by $91 million from the state and will provide space for 550 residents. When that facility is completed in fall 2026, supplemented by a separate housing agreement with North City, CSUSM will be able to increase its total of student residents to almost 3,000.
• CSUSM is in the early stages of planning a recreation and wellness facility – being championed by student leaders – that will offer dynamic recreation through fitness and wellness programming.
• University researchers secured $25 million in grants during the last fiscal year, surpassing the previous high of $18 million established five years ago.
• Thermo Fisher Scientific, the biotech giant based near Boston and with a campus in Carlsbad, has endorsed CSUSM as an official partner campus, signaling a formal commitment to enhancing and expanding current collaborations.
CSUSM acknowledged three regional community colleges: MiraCosta, Mt. San Jacinto and Palomar as Partners of the Year. All three were recognized for their critical role in reshaping higher education and addressing the evolving needs of students and the region.
Also, the Fran Aleshire Leadership Award went to Bret Schanzenbach, the CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, for building strong relationships with and among business and community.
Report to the Community is hosted each year by University Council, a citizen advisory board consisting of community leaders interested in the development and welfare of the university.