March 26, 2012
Just days after California State University's Board of Trustees announced an enrollment freeze at most campuses statewide, outgoing CSU Monterey Bay President Dianne Harrison identified enrollment growth as her proudest accomplishment during her six-year tenure.
Harrison has been hired on as president of CSU Northridge, a larger campus in southern California, and leaves CSUMB in June.
"I think I am leaving at a time when I have accomplished what I was charged to do by the Board of Trustees," Harrison says. "We have developed a very student-success oriented mindset on campus. That’s been a good cultural shift."
In addition to boosting enrollment by nearly 50 percent in six years, Harrison identifies the expansion in CSU degree programs (from 16 undergraduate majors and six graduate programs to 23 majors and eight grad programs) as a successful part of her mission. "Those are milestones and indicators of the growth of a 21st century university," she says.
In June, just before Harrison leaves, a baccalaureate program in nursing will come online. She describes it as a "hybrid" program that won't duplicate coursework already available at neighboring institutions like Monterey Peninsula College, but instead will focus on policy, research and high-tech training.
Harrison also reflects proudly on the changing look of the campus: constructing the Tanimura & Antle Library, and demolishing more than 100 old military buildings on the former Fort Ord (there are still about 90 due to come down when funds allow).
Harrison laments the impact budgetary constraints have had on CSUMB: "I feel as bad about turning students away as just about anything," she says. "My entire agenda was slowed down, thank you recession. But you have to think, what do we really need to keep doing to maintain forward progress in spite of this? You need to have students who graduate, because that makes more space for new students.
"As much as I wish I was president in a different financial era, the fact is, I wasn’t. That has forced us to think differently, and creatively, about how we operate."
One such operational change was sharing a chief informational officer with the San Jose campus; CSU's CIO travels to San Jose once a week, which Harrison says has turned out to be beneficial: "He goes, and gains Silicon Valley ideas about technology, and brings those back to us."
Still, Harrison says there are no more cuts that can be made. "When the conversation turns to bloat and efficiencies, I am here to tell you, we have a very thin bench," she says.
And freezing admissions as a last resort means changes for California's future, Harrison says, while community colleges are also at capacity and operating on shoe-strings. "It’s not like there’s a safety net out there for [prospective students], there isn’t any longer. Some of them simply will not go [to college]."
As to why she's stay in the CSU system in such dire financial times, Harrison says, "I am totally committed to the CSU mission, and that mission has to do with access and inclusion. Maybe I’m just a masochist, I don’t know. Social workers are trained to help the folks who get marginalized. That’s in my fiber."