Fresno State president: Bulldog Stadium could host Latino graduations

Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro spoke about growing enrollment and graduation during a meeting with The Fresno Bee editorial board on Oct. 12, 2019.
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro spoke about growing enrollment and graduation during a meeting with The Fresno Bee editorial board on Oct. 12, 2019.

It’s not out of the question to see Bulldog Stadium used in the future for Fresno State Latino graduation ceremonies which have quickly outgrown the Save Mart Center.

That is what Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro is considering to solve a situation where doors to the Save Mart Center have been closed due to lack of space for the Latino graduation that is the largest in the country.

“We’ve had conversations with the Chicano/Latino commencement committee about the future of that commencement because, as you might recall last year, the fire marshal required us to shut the doors,” said Castro during an hour-long meeting Oct. 10 with The Fresno Bee editorial board.

The committee, said Castro, is thinking about limiting the number of guests per graduate, “but I’m nervous about that because the number of graduates is going to continue to go up fast.”

The 43rd annual Fresno State Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration drew 13,276 in May to watch a record 1,140 graduates march across the stage as their names were announced. The celebration featured mariachi, folklórico dancers and a program conducted in both English and Spanish.

Dr. Víctor Torres, who organizes the celebration, figures there are about 13 family members and friends for each graduate. That would mean an extra 1,300 guests for every additional 100 graduates.

“I said to them maybe we ought to look at going back to Bulldog Stadium,” said Castro. “So, there may be possibilities. We are still looking at it.”

Bulldog Stadium, which seats more than 40,000, was used for Fresno State’s regular graduation and Latino graduation ceremonies. The stage faced east for the morning event, and was then switched to face the west side for the Latino graduation.

Castro, who noted that promoters had inquired about using the stadium recently for professional boxing and a Paul McCartney concert, said non-university use of the stadium “without some process of consultation with the neighborhood.”

Castro, entering his seventh year as university president, spoke about other issues during his meeting.

The percentage of first-generation students attending the university dropped slightly to 60 percent this academic year, he said, but that is not bad because it means other family members have gone on to higher education.

“I think students and their families are very positive about us, and that continues to show up in the applications that we’re getting,” said Castro, who noted there has been record graduation rates at Fresno State. That includes more than 6,000 graduates last school year.

The university will be admitting between 1,000 and 1,400 new students in January due to additional state funding, said Castro. Those will all be transfers, he said.

“For the first time in five years, we’ll be able to take all eligible students who apply,” said Castro.

The university had to turn away 9,000 applications the previous school year because the funds weren’t there. Fresno State has an enrollment of about 24,000.

Castro said the university has capacity for more students, but can’t grow enrollment without additional funding.

If voters approve a $15 billion education bond next year, Fresno State would get $100 million that would be used to renovate classrooms and labs

Such improvements, he added, should pay off dividends because university research has led to $45 million in awards to the school this past year.

“This is so important because our research is directly connected to the quality of life in the valley,” said Castro. “We do things like water research. We have a professor looking at a way to control tremors.

“It gives our students a chance to learn about research, and we have a lot of talented students who could be the next generation of scientists and engineers and other research professionals.”

Among other items that Castro mentioned:

▪ The university raised $27.6 million, and there was a 23 percent increase in overall contributions from alumni and the community. “This is our best year, and I think that we’re gaining a lot of momentum,” he said.

▪ The Stewart and Linda Resnick Foundation, which contributed $10 million for the new student union, also funds 600 college students through its Wonderful Scholars program. Of those, 220 attend Fresno State. Groundbreaking on the student union is expected in January. The facility is slated to open in 2021.

▪ A state requirement for high school students to complete an additional course on quantitative reasoning could have a bigger impact on rural schools. “If that requirement were in place today, 94 percent (of Fresno school district students enrolled at Fresno State) would still be eligible,” he said. Castro said the university can work with advocates for lower-income students or students of color to address that problem. The requirements go into effect in 2026.

▪ About 18,000 Fresno State students use the DISCOVRe program, which was launched in 2014 to infuse mobile technology in the classroom through use of laptops, tablets or smart phones. It is the largest in the country, said Castro.

▪ The university is pioneering the use of virtual labs, which addresses the problem of having to build additional laboratories, through a company called Labster. “Students doing the virtual labs are doing better in these courses than in the traditional labs,” he said. “We’re trying to scale it up as quickly as we can.”