California is quickly losing its once-brilliant luster for its commitment to higher education with the announcement that the California State University (CSU) system plans to cut student enrollment by almost 10 percent in the face of a $564 million shortfall next fiscal year. This means 40,000 California students over a three-year period must look elsewhere for their higher education.
Meanwhile, applications to CSU by secondary and community college transfer students this fall have risen off the charts.
CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed, in a conference call Tuesday, said the system is planning to slash planned enrollments even further at the 23-campus system, less than six months after closing student applications for the 2010 winter/spring semesters. Decrying the need for such action, Reed said, "Denying student access to the California State University is just about the worst thing that (we) can do. But we have to provide quality higher education to the students, and we cannot educate more students with $564 million less."
Last year, CSU trustees declared a "systemwide impaction" program resulting in a 10,000 enrollment reduction in 2009-2010. Additionally, to balance its budget, CSU instituted employee furloughs, student fee increases and campus-based cuts in service and programs.
October marked the beginning of the fall 2010 semester application period and since that time CSU has received more than 266,000 applications, a 53 percent jump over last year. Community college transfer students, which represent about one third of the total applications, have shown a 127 percent increase. Increases in applications were due in part, Reed explained, to a successful communications outreach campaign that included the expanded use of social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook to inform parents and high school counselors about the planned reductions.
"Impaction" also meant applicants are less likely to be accepted by individual campuses if they fail to meet all application requisites or miss the November 30 deadline. In addition, campuses are now encouraged to give priority acceptance to applicants from their home service area, Reed said. In the past, campuses such as San Diego State University and CSU, San Luis Obispo attracted large numbers of students from all over the state, a trend which is now being discouraged.
Chancellor Reed also provided a preview of the proposed 2010-2011 budget the CSU will present to its board of trustees next week. Calling it a "recover and reinvest" budget, CSU is asking the state to restore funding for one-time cuts imposed in 2009-2010 totaling $305 million, along with an additional $587 million for mandatory cost increases, enrollment growth, compensation increases and a restoration of the revenues that would have been part of the Compact funding for higher education. The total $884 million increase includes a request for revenue needed for the legislature to "buy out" a 10 percent student fee increase.
This past summer, the CSU board had approved changes to state regulations that allowed management and nonrepresented employees to be furloughed two days per month. Approximately 85 percent of CSU's budget consists of employee salaries and benefits. Furloughs were seen as a way to protect the maximum number of jobs while generating essential salary savings.
California State University, the largest public, post-secondary system in the country, isn't alone in dealing with these cutbacks. The University of California experienced similar declines from the state's general fund contributions.
In earlier times in the Golden State's history, the legislature may have been more empathetic to restoring the budgets of its higher education stakeholders. But the state's recent Houdini escape from fiscal peril is expected to make a repeat appearance next January. Earlier this week, the governor told the Fresno Bee editorial board he is expecting a deficit ranging from $5 billion to $7 billion. When combined with the projected budget gap of $7.4 billion, the state could start its budget process $12 billion to $14 billion in the hole. This scenario makes funding restorations to the higher education systems seem even less probable.
CSU students pay some of the lowest fees nationwide. In a comparison of public state universities tuition/fees for 2008-09, students at North Carolina State paid 37 percent higher fees; State University of New York, Albany, attendees shelled out 58 percent more and Illinois State students forked over more than double what their counterparts are charged in the California State University system. In sum, California education remains a relative bargain, despite the increasing fees and enrollment restrictions.
For those reasons, the California State University system is attempting to get out in front of the budget issue.
Jeff Bleich, chairman of the CSU Board of Trustees, last week penned an op-ed column for The Los Angeles Times, in which he stated, "I need to share my concern - and personal pain - that California is on the verge of destroying the very system that once made this state great." Bleich, a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Law, said he felt an obligation to repay the state by living and serving in various capacities in California.
"So as someone who has lived the California dream, there is nothing more painful to me than to see this dream dying," he continued. "It is being starved to death by a public that thinks any government service - even public education - is not worth paying for. And by political leaders who do not lead but instead give in to our worst, shortsighted instincts."
The CSU board is expected to vote on the budget at its meeting November 17 and forward the request to the governor and the legislature.