California State University, Fullerton students are a trusted choice for Orange County employers, according to President Fram Virjee.
Employers “always say to me, ‘I’ll take a Titan anytime,’” Virjee told the Business Journal last week.
That’s evident in the local workforce, with nearly 80% of the school’s 310,000 alumni living within 50 miles of the campus.
“We are the work engine for Orange County. We produce half the teachers, half the accountants, half the engineers and half the nurses every year in the workforce,” he said.
“There is not an entity in Orange County that can claim it has a greater economic impact on Orange County than Cal State Fullerton, because of the number of students that graduate with degrees, who then go on to live and thrive in Orange County and make it a great place to live.”
According to Virjee, for every dollar CSUF gets from the state—it received $158.4 million in the fiscal year 2022-23 state budget—the university produces about $13.50 in the economy.
CSUF this year earned the top spot in the Wall Street Journal’s March Madness-themed affordability bracket against other universities.
Tuition at CSUF is, on average, $8,322 annually.
Despite the university’s reported affordability, many current and prospective students, particularly those working at Walt Disney Co., will soon be able to attend CSUF for free.
The university, along with its biggest feeder school, Fullerton College, this year joined the Disney Aspire program, which covers tuition for all Disney employees that attend a college in the program’s network.
CSUF marks the first university that Disney Aspire participants can attend in person.
“If you’re in high school right now and trying to decide where to go to school and you’re wondering, ‘how am I going to pay for my tuition?’ Well, by golly go get a job at Disneyland or Disney” to attend CSUF, Virjee said.
A recently completed campus addition at CSUF aims to boost the mental well-being of students.
The university last month hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for its new Counseling and Psychological Services Wellness Room. The new wellness facility, an idea that came from business administration alum Asha Bhattacharya when she was a student years ago, features a yoga room, meditation room, massage chairs and sleep pods.
The university has also added online therapy and hired more counselors to meet the mental health needs of its students.
“We have to remove the stigma of mental health issues, and treat it just like physical health,” Virjee said.
Another new facility recently opened on campus is an undergraduate housing complex with 600 beds.
The university can currently house up to 2,200 students on campus and wants to more than double that figure over the next few years.
A new housing community is expected to break ground next summer, which will take about 18 months to complete.
Virjee projects the university, which has about 40,000 students enrolled, will meet its goal of 5,500 beds on campus in the next five to seven years.
About 20 years ago, state funding covered nearly all of CSUF’s expenses, which made tuition nearly free for all students.
“I hear from alumni all the time, ‘well, when I went to school here it was free, or $100’ for tuition,” said Virjee, who became president in 2018.
Today, roughly half of CSUF’s funding comes from the state while the other half comes from tuition.
CSUF is also ramping up its fundraising efforts.
The university founded a fundraising arm in 2016 and has raised north of $250 million to date through the “It Takes a Titan” campaign. The campaign, which was publicly launched in 2020, had already privately raised over $120 million prior to its public debut.
The money has gone to endowments, a successful $11 million matching program and to initiatives that increase diversity programs, among other efforts.
“I don’t see this as philanthropy or donations, this is investment,” Virjee said.
“This is the Orange County community investing in the future of Orange County.”
The university this year surpassed its $25 million fundraising goal, raising $31 million in the 2021 to 2022 academic year. That money, along with its funding from tuition and the state, is going to projects, such as new business and science centers, which aim to enhance the university’s education programs and create an impact on the Orange County community.
Last year, CSUF got its largest-ever donation, a $40 million gift from billionaire philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos.
Scott has donated north of $12 billion to over 1,200 organizations in the past three years, under the guidance of advisers who research and analyze organizations that have demonstrated commitment and impact on social equity and mobility.
“The $40 million is amazing. But what’s equally amazing is that she decided Cal State Fullerton was worthy of that,” Virjee said.
In the Works
A recent $250,000 donation from an alum went to CSUF’s upcoming Computer Science and Engineering Innovation Hub, which will serve as an education center for elementary, middle and high school students. It also aims to serve as a business hub for auto, pharmaceutical, cybersecurity and clean energy industries to collaborate and pioneer new technologies.
That project is expected to be complete within the next two and a half years, Virjee said.
Other projects in development include a new science building and visual arts complex that will house the university’s animation, pottery, glassblowing, sculpture and graphic arts programs. The visual arts complex is projected to open in the next 18 months.