When speaking with California State University, Long Beach, Interim President Donald Para, the term “new normal” comes up several times.
The school has about 30% less funding than three or four years ago, and although the recent passage of Proposition 30 will help stabilize, it will take quite a while to get back to where CSULB was, he said.
“But, for the first time in five or six years, we actually have a budget we can plan,” Para said. “That’s huge for us.”
With the new normal, he added, is an emphasis on placing small budget increases toward student success initiatives. The CSU system currently is in a yearlong study process on performance-based funding — divvying up money to its schools based on things like graduation success rates. Admission has remained relatively flat while educators look to help the students already in the school navigate the system to a successful graduation.
“We should concentrate on student success, improving graduation rates and those kinds of markers first, and then increasing the number of students we have in the CSU,” Para said. “Having said that, we’re disappointed. We had 82,000 applications for admission — among the most of any school in the nation. We’re disappointed we’re having to turn people away.”
This year, enrollment will clock in at about 36,000. There will be about 9,000 new freshmen and transfer students. The six-year graduation rate at CSULB is inching closer to 58% and officials said they expect that rate to increase each year by about 1.5%.
For all those students, there will be investment in technology and online class initiatives.
“Straight lecture is the least effective way to educate students, certainly today’s students,” Para said. “They need to be more engaged and engaged in other ways.”
The flipped lecture model will become more prevalent at CSULB — where students view a video lecture on their own time and then engage in smaller classes.
“We’re taking aggressive steps,” Para said. “We already have a lot on campus, and we need a lot more. We’re putting money into that.”
CSULB likely will hire a Chief Information Officer to oversee technology initiatives around the campus. Computer labs around campus are expected to be “refreshed” with new equipment this academic year. Smart classrooms and more Wi-Fi will be installed. Liberal Arts Buildings 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be renovated — with air conditioning installation and more technological plugins a priority.
Para himself will not be a here-and-gone interim presence. He has been with the CSULB for 25 years. He served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the university before taking the interim president position. He has a strong music and administrative background.
“I love this campus and I love the mission,” he said. “I’m honored to have this title for ’13/’14. I look forward to our continued success on campus.”
He said he had a good conversation with CSU Chancellor Timothy White before taking the post.
“He said that he did not want a placeholder or a manager, he wanted a leader,” Para said. “Their contention is to complete the process so that a new president will be selected and in place by next spring or summer.”
The CSU Board of Trustees will conduct a national search, forming a search committee and a campus advisory board.
“This will be a closed search,” Para said. “The campus is going to wake up one morning and they’ll tell them, ‘Here is your new president.’”
As for whether that president could be Para himself? Of recent CSU openings, three went to the interim president — but Para stayed mum.
“Anybody who is a candidate or might logically be a candidate, the right thing for them to say is this is going to be a closed search and the right thing to do is just for everybody to keep their mouths shut about that,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s kind of a non-answer, but the that’s appropriate answer for the circumstances.”
Until that decision, he said, Para will continue to enjoy his new challenge at a campus he said has become home.
For more information, visit www.csulb.edu.
Jonathan Van Dyke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.