Nearly half of students at the California State University identify as Latino, enrollment data from fall 2022 shows.
Now, at the helm of the CSU’s vast, 23-campus network is Mildred García, a longtime advocate for public higher education.
Officials announced García as the CSU’s newest chancellor on Wednesday, July 12 – the first Latina named to oversee the nation’s largest four-year university system, with nearly 460,000 students and 56,000 faculty and staff.
García, who is the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, expressed her commitment to “furthering student achievement” and “closing equity gaps” in a news release.
Her tenure begins on Oct. 1, officials said.
Cal State officials say that over half of bachelor’s degrees earned by Latino students across the state are earned at CSU schools. Also, 21 of the 23 campuses are considered Hispanic Serving Institutions, which are colleges or universities where at least 25% of undergraduate, full-time enrollees are of Latino descent.
García previously served as president of Cal State Fullerton from 2012 to 2018, and before that, she led Cal State Dominguez Hills from 2007 to 2012.
Latino community advocacy leaders, Cal State students and educators expressed their excitement – mixed with some skepticism – for the new chancellor.
García’s “commitment to ensuring Latino, and all, students receive a higher education of value has always been a steadfast priority that guides her work,” said Deborah Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education, which advocates for greater Latino representation and resources in schools.
“Millie has been the ‘first Latina’ most of her professional career, thus setting a high standard for what is possible and what is expected in those who choose to be of service to the community,” Santiago said. “This is the time and opportunity for accelerating investments and strategies to intentionally serve Latino students and communities in California. … We know the current leadership’s focus sets the stage for the depth and breadth of readiness needed under Millie’s leadership so that the entire system can build positive momentum to ensure Latino students earn a quality education. We cannot accept excuses for anything less.”
Jose Barrera, the state director for the California League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, called the job a “major responsibility” – but García’s appointment means the work is just beginning.
“Given that 21 campuses in the CSU system are HSIs (Hispanic Serving Institutions), García will be able to go to Congress and advocate for national dollars to our CSU education system, which will help retain faculty and the advancement of all students,” Barrera said.
Being able to support a diverse, growing student body, staff and faculty means that García’s office will need to address “unique needs” across the university system, Barrera said – from tuition hikes to more inclusive programming for its Latino members. As a Latina educator, García has the “know-how” to navigate the needs of her community.
Ana Valdez, CEO of the Latino Donor Collaborative think tank, agreed that representation matters in attracting and welcoming new students into the mammoth university system. In a statement, Valdez said that a new chancellor must understand diverse students’ concerns in order to “create authentic initiatives that engage and empower them.”
Costa Mesa resident Esteban Arciniega Vera, who begins his teaching credential program at Cal State Fullerton in the fall, said that a Latina leader representing the CSU is “inspiring” and a mark of a “progressing society.”
Arciniega Vera said he’s satisfied “as long as she makes some policy changes, and understands Latino students’ needs – especially on tuition hikes.”
“It’s important for Latinos to be able to see there’s a different side of life; not just blue-collar work,” he added. “This makes a good impression on young Latinx people who aspire to further their education.”
Theresa Montaño, a faculty member at Cal State Northridge’s Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, was excited about having a Latina chancellor. She hopes that García will bring her vision and work closely with faculty to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion “not as just buzzwords.”
Montaño expressed her dismay at the possible raising of tuition – while Garcia’s own annual salary of $795,000 will also include a nearly $1 million yearly housing stipend and other standard benefits, according to a Wednesday board report.
“What’s disturbing to me is that, as a time when the trustees are entertaining the idea of raising student tuition, and faculty can’t even afford homes in the areas where they are teaching, she gets an almost million-dollar package,” Montaño said. “It’s great, but at the same time we’ve got to cope with the everyday reality that our students can barely afford tuition now, and our faculty are in contract negotiations, trying to fight for a decent salary.”
Montaño hopes that the stark realities of CSU students and staff – people whom, she said, work multiple jobs, deal with food insecurities or homelessness, all while still going to school – are understood by their new chancellor.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work on (Garcia’s) part to really make the CSU’s the ‘people’s university’ that it started at. I look forward to working with her, but I have both hope and skepticism.”
Staff writer Kristy Hutchings contributed to this report.