California State University, Long Beach
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It Was A Year Of Discovery For Conoley

Published: September 1, 2015

When Jane Close Conoley completed her first year as CSULB president with the beginning of the fall semester, it was clearly one full of discovery.

“I’ve discovered tremendous strengths here so part of my vision is not to mess up the stuff that works so well,” she laughed. “A shining example of that is the progress we’ve made with our student success initiative. Part of going forward will be a continued focus on adding high impact educational experiences for each student and promoting graduation rates. To do that, we must make sure that students get the advice and classes they need. They must have the experiences that enrich their education and add value to their lives.”

Conoley believes she has learned much from the conversations she has had on campus since arriving.

“I have talked to a lot of people representing both the inside and outside the university,” she said. “One of the first things I learned was the love people here have for the institution. Employers have told me they want to hire just students from Long Beach State. Alums are nostalgic and almost romantic about traditions like the 49er Days. It’s where everybody seemed to meet their spouses.”

Conoley points with pride to the recent success of the Declare campaign. Publicly launched in October 2014 with a goal of raising a total of $225 million, CSULB officially surpassed that mark by raising $226.4 million to date thanks to a recent multi-million dollar donation to the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“Our world-class faculty and staff have inspired many alumni and friends of the university to invest in the future of our students. The financial landscape has changed dramatically for public higher education and so to preserve what’s best about what we do and continuously innovate our research and teaching, we need private support. I’ve come to a better understanding of the university’s role in the region’s economic welfare,” she said. “I think we’re at a golden moment now with the mayor of Long Beach Robert Garcia, LBSU and the Long Beach College Promise. This is our chance to significantly raise regional educational attainment as part of the foundation for economic development. We have the chance to make historic contributions to our region.”

Conoley was quick to praise the Long Beach College Promise program offered with the Long Beach Unified School District and Long Beach City College (LBCC). The promise guarantees that eligible Long Beach students will have the opportunity to receive a college education. Notably, the promise provides all incoming students at LBCC a tuition-free first semester and it offers CSULB admission to those who complete minimum college preparatory requirements or minimum community college transfer requirements. Additionally, the three institutions assist students and families with the requirements by outreach services that span K-12 levels.

She sees a larger budget as representing a willingness by the state to re-invest in higher education.

“We’re very grateful. We got the budget we asked for,” she said. “The overall trend of state investment in higher education, however, has been going down for decades. We are still $65 million lower in this budget than we were in 2007. But, having said that, I am eternally grateful to our California legislators for standing with the CSU because I see what’s happening in Wisconsin and Kansas and Louisiana. The funding model for higher education will have to evolve. Can we be publically accountable while being increasingly supported privately? Our students are already paying more than the state is paying.”

The ongoing funding challenges will demand change in how the university relates to its students, Conoley feels.

“One thing we have to do is talk to the students about philanthropy from the time they are freshmen,” she said. “Many of our students are here because of taxpayer or private philanthropic money. Our alums are a huge resource and we have to keep asking ourselves how to best connect with them. We want to add value to their degrees by what we accomplish today. ”

Conoley has long days. “I think seeing the role the university plays in the community has spurred me to do more outreach,” she said. “I don’t go home to a good book. I go out into the community for many, many events. Since coming to LBSU, I have become much more socially engaged.”

She invites faculty, staff, alums and community members to spend more time with the university.

“Anything you’re interested in, we’re doing,” she said. “We’re not your mother’s university any more. Like our website says, ‘Explore.’ We have world-class music, athletics, art and academics. We offer tax help. If you’re interested in exercise, we have the LifeFit Center. Come look at our shark tank. See us for the tremendous community resource we are.”