Editor’s Note: F. King Alexander joined California State University, Long Beach as its sixth president in January 2006. In July he will depart the campus to take the reins as the president of the Louisiana State University system and chancellor of Louisiana State University A&M.
Shortly after arriving at Cal State Long Beach, President F. King Alexander promoted two important themes that clearly articulated and expressed his goals for the university.
The first, “Among the Nation’s Best,” acknowledged the university’s reputation and accomplishments and promised that recognitions would continue to accrue and be recognized in the national arena. The second was an explicit expression of Alexander’s beliefs and expectations; “Graduation Begins Today” was a message to all students, faculty and staff that at this university, student success is the first and most important goal.
As he considered the past seven years at CSULB, Alexander said, “We’ve become a national model of student success, access and affordability. Our facilities are much better, which has created an environment so that our students eagerly spend more time together on campus. CSULB students are part of a bigger and enhanced university, thanks to our faculty and staff and their dedication to the mission of this great university.”
In addition to consistent recognition for academic excellence in rankings offered by so many national news sources, Cal State Long Beach became increasingly mentioned as among the nation’s most affordable and accessible universities with high academic standings. A report by the Southern Regional Education Board included CSULB among 15 universities nationwide that outperform others in helping students from all socioeconomic backgrounds to stay on track and graduate. In another national report, The Education Trust included the campus among its collection of only five institutions that met a conservative set of criteria on affordability, access and quality.
These recognitions caused Alexander to be among six public university presidents from across the nation invited to the White House to meet with President Barak Obama and Secretary of Higher Education Arne Duncan to discuss the important issue of affordability of higher education in the U.S. “We were asked to explain how we’re able to achieve so much more for so much less than other universities nationwide,” he said.
To Alexander, the ability to attend a university is as important a consideration as the attainment of a college degree, particularly as students and graduates are faced with an increased demand for degrees to qualify for positions in the workplace.
“Graduation is the number one issue in higher education and we were five years ahead of the national interests,” Alexander said. “Graduation is accepted not only as our university culture, but as both a moral obligation and an economic necessity that benefit our students and our society. The importance is not just in the grad rate, as many institutions proclaim, but it’s the number of students and the type of students a campus graduates. This is where we shine. Anyone can graduate a high school valedictorian, but it’s the students who need us most who are the graduates who benefit most.”
That prospective students and their parents and school counselors are paying attention to CSULB’s focus on student success is clear. The campus continues to be noted as among the most popular in the nation in terms of applicants and this year CSULB received more than 88,000 applications from students hoping to begin their Cal State Long Beach academic pursuits next fall.
Alexander’s advocacy on behalf of students has been a mainstay of his work while at CSULB. He has particularly focused on state funding declines, financial aid and student loan issues that impact students across the nation while working with elected representatives in Sacramento and in the nation’s capital to develop more effective policies in these areas. In response, the California State Students Association, representing the student leadership of the entire California State University system, has twice recognized Alexander as CSU president of the year.
“The most meaningful part of my last seven and a half years was being honored by CSSA twice as president of the year for the state of California,” he said. “I can’t think of a higher honor or more important recognition from student leaders.”
Alexander also points to the increased funding CSULB has received through philanthropic donations to the campus. During his administration, nearly $200 million was raised in private support to the university, and the university’s endowment has doubled.
Also increased two-fold has been funding realized through university research. “With the help of our faculty and staff we have doubled our research capacity and played an important role in answering the important question of whether CSU institutions are engaged in valuable research impacting our society and community. Teaching and research are not dichotomous enterprises because both areas are enhanced when they function together,” Alexander said.
As he considered the campus’ growth and accomplishments over the past seven years, Alexander flatly stated, “This is not about me but attributed to an engaged and caring faculty, staff and student body.
“Cal State Long Beach is a wonderful place, second to none, and it’s because of its people—students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. It gives me great pride to know how well our university has succeeded in a state and national contest. As simplistic as it may sound, it took a lot of hard-working people who believed that this is what a great public university should be.”
For more about President Alexander’s tenure at CSULB, see the Alexander timeline.