Cal State Catastrophe
In case you haven’t heard, Californians can now say good-bye to affordable higher education. Due to drastic state budget cuts, the California State University system is being forced to take measures never before considered in its 51 years of existence. This fine institution, comprised of 23 campuses, has consistently provided low-cost, high-quality education to millions of young Californians who could afford neither UC schools or private colleges. Since 1961, Cal State has been the obvious choice for students wishing to complete university with a respectable degree and minimal debt. Sadly, this option is about to become a highly coveted opportunity, limited to a select few, and those who do not make admissions, will be left with very few affordable alternatives.
For decades, approximately one-third of California’s high school graduates have headed off to a California State University where they could expect to receive an excellent standard of education at a reasonable cost. But over the past few years, the state has systematically chopped away at the university budget, while tuition fees have risen annually, making higher education increasingly unattainable for middle-class and low-income families. Last year, the cost of tuition increased by 9% while the government cut $750 million from the CSU budget.1 Effectively, CSU students are paying a lot more for a compromised education. Sadly, this situation is all about to get much, much worse. Governor Jerry Brown has budgeted a flat $2 billion for the CSU system for 2012-13, but if his proposed tax initiative is voted down on November 6th, he will pull an additional $200 million from the CSU budget bringing it to the lowest level of state funding since 1996-97.2
The numbers are daunting, but the message is clear: life is about to become incredibly stressful for Cal State students, present and prospective. In response to last year’s funding cuts, CSU plans to slash enrolment by a whopping 20,000-25,000 students in 2013-14. Their first step is to close spring admissions at all but eight of their twenty-three campuses. Those eight schools accepting applicants are only taking a few hundred community college students transferring as juniors with the newly created Associate Degree.3 No freshmen need apply. Compared to the 70,000 applicants accepted into the Cal State system last spring, this cut is mind-boggling. No doubt, the powers that be have calculated this to be a shrewd move but, in the long run, it is likely to prove false economy. Not only is the system losing out on tuition revenue, but a society that does not educate its youth pays a high price.
Transfer students who are admitted, should not expect to be able to choose their campus. For freshmen who had planned to start their college career next spring, the door is shut tight and you will just have to wait, but don’t hold your breath, expecting things to improve in the fall. Nobody knows how the public is going to vote on November 6th, so as a precaution, all eligible students applying for fall 2013 will be waitlisted until the results of the election are known.4
The implications of these changes are far-reaching. The most obvious result of closing spring admissions is that thousands of students will be left in limbo with absolutely no guarantees of fall enrolment. Transfer students will need to decide if they want to spend more money taking classes they don’t really need at the Community College, or take a break from their studies until they eventually get accepted to a university. Freshmen are looking at an enforced gap year, which is not ideal if you are fired up for university. The results of these funding cuts are not going to go away any time soon. With a reduction next year of up to 25,000 students, the struggle to gain entry to CSU will become increasingly competitive for years to come.
Reduced Credits/ Larger Classes
Should you be lucky enough to gain admittance to a CSU campus, don’t expect your woes to be over. As a part of cost cutting measures, fewer courses will be offered and class sizes will increase. CSU is also restricting the number of courses each student can take per term in order to share the reduced resources fairly. All students, bar graduating seniors, will be limited to 15-17 credits.5 Do the math and you will quickly realize that you will need to add an extra year to your studies in order to graduate. State education is suddenly looking like a pricey, and rather frustrating, proposition.
CSU Education Gets a New Look
California State University administrators are struggling to keep the system afloat within the new budget guidelines, placing them in the unenviable position of having to axe programs right, left and center. Student support and counseling will be among the many programs to fall victim to the cuts. In his letter to the Cal State Long Beach campus community, provost Donald Para paints a grim picture of what lies ahead. “This means the campus can launch no new initiatives to support student success in Fall 2012. Unless reversed, there will be significant adverse effects on student progress to degree.”6 It is a sobering moment when the provost of a respectable university predicts a decline in student progress due to financial hardship.
And it is not just the students who are being hit by the new budget. Faculty will see their travel and research funds slashed, as well as their assigned time allotted to advising and program coordinating.7 Promotions and tenure will be meted out parsimoniously. Hiring will become dry up. As courses are eliminated, fewer teaching posts will be available. It stands to reason that, with the removal of services, professors, advisors and courses, once again, the students will feel every blow.
Students intending to apply to a CSU campus for 2013-14 would be wise to seriously start considering some alternatives. If you have the grades and double the cash, the UC system is an inviting possibility (though, they too, are being hit by funding cuts). Private schools are very costly, but financial aid can ease the burden. If you are geographically adaptable, you may consider applying to a college in one of the fifteen WHICHE states. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education offers students the opportunity to study in its participating states without paying exorbitant out-of-state fees. WHICHE students pay 150% of the normal state tuition, which is more than you would pay at CSU, but substantially less than you would pay as an out-of-state student elsewhere. There are alternatives, but all of them cost more than CSU, so start budgeting now.8
Times are changing and college education is taking on a whole new look. High school graduates can no longer take university for granted when even the state schools become unaffordable and restrictive. Even if Governor Brown’s tax initiative passes in November, CSU will implement severe cuts, but if the initiative fails, the situation will get a whole lot worse. As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed, so keep an open mind, research all your options and budget wisely in your pursuit of higher education.
1 Krupnik, Matt. Cal State Closes Most Spring Admissions, Could Shut Out 25,000 Fall Applicants. Mercury News.com (14/04/2012) http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_20207579/cal-state-closes-most-spring-admissions
2 Campus Budget FAQs. California State University Northridge (14/04/2012)http://www.csun.edu/presofc/campusbudgetnews/campusbudgetnews-FAQs.shtml
3 Cal State To Shut Off Admissions. Whittier Daily News (14/04/012) http://www.whittierdailynews.com/news/ci_20212473/cal-state-shut-off-admissions
4 California State University Outlines Options if Budget Cut By Additional $200 Million. California State University (14/04/2012) http://www.calstate.edu/pa/News/2012/Release/enrollment.shtml
6Para, Donald Provost’s Letter to the Campus Community. CSULB Budget Central (14/04/2012) http://www.csulb.edu/about/budgetcentral/20120319.htm
8WHICHE Student Exchange Programs (18/04/2012) http://www.wiche.edu/studentExchange