A college education is vital to succeed in today’s world, especially for African Americans, in this time of uncertainty, Cal State San Bernardino President Tomás D. Morales told members of the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in San Bernardino on Feb. 27.

Morales, who has been leading CSUSB since 2012, visited the church as part of the California State University’s Super Sunday, when members of the CSU visited more than 100 African American churches throughout California to share their personal stories and experiences, advice and college information with future students and their families on the importance of higher education.

Now in its 17th year, more than a million people have attended Super Sunday, the signature event of the CSU African American Initiative, which seeks to increase the preparation, support, retention and degree attainment of African American students.

Morales said this year’s event was even more meaningful than in previous years, as communities – especially the African American community – have been deeply affected not only by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by financial uncertainty, deepening inequities, devastating acts of racial injustice and widening divisions across the country. And those challenges have continued into 2022.

But Morales said there is a path forward to a brighter future.

“I’m here with a message of hope, encouragement and heartfelt optimism. Because I know the great promise and opportunity that Cal State offers for you, your families and our communities,” said Morales, who added that in May of last year, the CSU celebrated its largest graduating class ever, with nearly 133,000 talented and diverse students, including more than 5,000 grads who identify as African American. “There’s never been a better time to be at CSU!”

He said along with encouraging students to prepare for college, the CSU and its 23 campuses were focused on Graduation Initiative 2025, the university’s signature effort to help more students achieve their dream of a college degree and to close opportunity gaps that have left too many young people behind.

But to succeed and increase the number of African Americans going onto college, it would have to be a joint effort, said Morales. “Each of you can be a tremendous help – at home, around the dinner table, in our schools, in the community and here in church – by surrounding your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and godchildren with the message that they can go to college, they must go to college, that it is affordable, and it opens the doors to a world of opportunity and progress for all of us.”

Morales told the church members that he himself was a product of public education, from K-12 to college and beyond, having been a student in the Educational Opportunity Program, a comprehensive program of support services that include advising, learning skills development, tutoring, and academic advisement; the EOP provides educational opportunities to low-income students who have been traditionally excluded from higher education.

The fact is that I was poor and I was academically unprepared to go to college. I am not ashamed of that. I recognize that and celebrate that,” Morales said. “It has taken effort and persistence, but I am reminded and eternally grateful to the opportunities that public education has afforded me throughout my life. It has built my career. I am happy to pay that back through my work, my years working in public higher education, especially here in the Inland Empire.”

Morales said Cal State San Bernardino believes in the inland region’s young women and young men, and their futures and is committed to their success.

“CSUSB has a wonderful African American community of students, faculty and staff. We are proud that the percentage of African American students, faculty and staff in CSUSB is one of the highest of the 23 CSU campuses,” Morales said. “Our Black Scholars program; the Black Faculty, Staff and Student Association; our Pan African Student Success Center and our many Black student organizations provide a supportive community.”

“A Cal State degree provides our children with direct access to the high-demand, meaningful, well-paying careers of the future,” Morales said.

The CSU is the single largest educator and preparer of teachers in the state of California, Morales said. It graduates more than half of California’s bachelor’s degrees in business, engineering, public administration and criminal justice, nearly half of the degrees in the health professions, nursing and media, and more than 90 percent of the state’s hospitality degrees, he told the church members, adding that Cal State graduates typically earn a million dollars more over their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma.

He said that upward mobility for students was well within reach no matter if they were the first in their family to attend college or returning to school after time away.

Morales then shared the experiences of his mother, who did not go back to school until she was 40 years old,  after her three sons (Morales was the youngest) left home. She attended a community college then went onto to get her bachelor’s degree. She ultimately retired as a social worker.

“So it’s never too late,” Morales said.

He talked about how 84 percent of CSUSB students receive financial aid. “Finances should not be a roadblock in pursuing your baccalaureate degree.”

He also said the university provides strong support to students. “You can count on our faculty, staff, students and alumni to partner with our students every step of the way, from admissions to the proud day they walk across the commencement stage.”

Morales closed by inviting the church members to visit the campus and watch out for the CSU’s first Juneteenth symposium to be held during the summer.

“Cal State San Bernardino is your university, it’s your house,” Morales said. “Please come on out and visit us. I encourage the parishioners of this great church to consider going back to school or going into school and earn their baccalaureate, their master’s or their doctorate degree at Cal State San Bernardino.”

St. Paul AME pastor, the Rev. Steven S. Shepherd Sr., thanked Morales for coming to the church to talk about the importance of higher education.

“The Bible makes it clear that our people perish because of the lack of knowledge, and so our mandate is to give the knowledge when we can. And the truth of the matter is that the biggest threat to an oppressive system are educated Black and brown minds,” Shepherd told church members. “We must take our children from the pipeline to prison and put them on the course to college.”

Sylvia A. Alva, CSU’s executive vice chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs, said, “The goal of Super Sunday is to share with potential students and their families that a college degree from the CSU is possible, affordable and transformative, and our commitment to partnering with them from admission to the day they earn their degree and beyond. As part of the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025 we are laser focused on eliminating equity gaps and making a measurable difference in supporting African American students to earning their degrees. We will continue to work tirelessly with our faith-based partners throughout the Golden State to bring the lifelong and life-transforming benefits of higher education to every student who dreams of a CSU degree.”

For more information, visit the CSU Super Sunday website.

To watch the church service that contains the president’s talk, visit the St. Paul AME Church San Bernardino Facebook page.