Budget blues

Cuts, fee hikes loom in CSUC’s future

With the start of the spring term at Chico State University, returning students, faculty, and support staff face a bleak outlook generated by a projected state budget deficit of $14.5 billion, the threat of another substantial fee increase, and, in the view of campus unions, misguided administration fiscal policies and priorities.

The one bright spot is that Chico State and other California State University (CSU) campuses are not now the target of mid-year cuts, as are other state agencies. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are exploring options in an emergency budget session that will focus mainly on cuts, so the facts on savings won’t be known until that session ends on Feb. 21.

The budget for next year (2008-09) is a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop. All campuses will likely see 6-10 percent less operating money. Students may well face a 10 percent fee increase—their fees have already gone up 76 percent since 2002—when the CSU trustees meet in March.

Normally the trustees vote in November on matters for the next fiscal year that starts the following July 1, but at that time they moved the vote forward to March to give them more time to lobby the governor and Legislature for another $73 million they say is needed to avoid the fee increase. Analysts say getting that money is now a highly unlikely prospect.

CSU student fees have risen much faster than the national average and far exceed the national inflation rate. While it has been the goal of public (tax-supported) colleges and universities over the past 25 years to hike fees to the point where students pay for one third of the cost of their education, Chico State is very close to that point now.

Currently Chico State students pay tuition fees covering 24 percent of the bill, reported Joe Wills, the university public information director. Student activity fees add another 8 percent to the mix, for a total of 32 percent, Wills revealed. The current university catalog lists fees for a full-time undergraduate student (more than 6.1 units) as $3,412 per year.

Another 10 percent increase would prompt now-familiar cries of anguish from student leaders and many educators that the trustees are trying to balance the budget on the backs of students and their families and pricing a college education out of their reach. Indeed, Chico State students who borrow run up an average debt load of $14,114 to graduate, Dan Reed, director of financial aid, reported.

One consequence of the budget crisis is that Chancellor Charles Reed has instructed all CSU presidents to close applications for the fall 2008 semester on Feb. 1, six months ahead of the usual cutoff date and regardless of whether they had reached enrollment goals.

The goals, set by the governor in a higher-education “compact” in 2004 for the next six years, called for 2.5 percent enrollment growth per year, and in turn promised fiscal support of 3 percent to the general fund each year to enable that growth and another 1 percent for salary increases, health benefits, maintenance, and inflation. (Chico State, because of its space-constrained downtown location, received a special dispensation to maximize growth at 1.5 percent annually.)

Citing the fiscal emergency, however, the governor has set aside the compact.

“Our faculty [and support staff] raises, which are tied to the compact, are now blowing in the wind,” said Susan Green, chief of the local chapter of the California Faculty Association.

The same is not true for management, noted Pat Gantt, a lab technician and statewide president of the CSU Employees Union. He and Green are also critical of executive costs and use of resources.

“While executive pay is skyrocketing and the number of CSU managers is growing faster [at 32. 8 percent] than student enrollment [23.9 percent], faculty ranks [growth of 5.1 percent] aren’t keeping pace with student needs,” Green said, adding that the end result is higher fees for students and overcrowded classrooms.

Overall, Chico State has 150 management people and 500 full-time faculty members. One-quarter of the management people make more than $100,000 per year, while 1 percent of teaching faculty makes $100,000 or more, according to official records.

The biggest root problem is that Chico State and other CSU campuses are enrollment driven. For example, Chico State experienced an enrollment surge of 800 students beyond quota last autumn, meaning they were unfunded. These students gained entry but did not have seats waiting. They and others milled around searching unsuccessfully for classes they needed or, in a few cases, gained entry to overcrowded classes.

Sandra Flake, the new Chico State provost, explained in an e-mail, “There was a system-wide surge in enrollment.” She noted the Feb. 1 closing date for applications and added, “But since we have already received many applications, we could [again next fall] be above our enrollment target.”

Gantt noted that each university is required to carry a contingency reserve to absorb budget cuts and avoid layoffs. The reserve has been rumored to be in the double-digit millions. When asked about the size of the reserve, Flake sidestepped the question.

Flake came to campus last fall at a salary of $207,000 per year, putting her among the top five highest-paid provosts in the CSU system. President Paul Zingg, who came to campus in February 2004 at $205,000 per year, has since enjoyed two big raises that put him now at $289,500 per year with a $60,000-per-year housing allowance and $12,000-per-year car allowance.