CSU enrollment cuts?
Failure of governor’s tax proposal could spell fewer students
The classrooms were empty at Chico State on Tuesday (March 20) with students on spring break, but the administrative offices buzzed with activity as staff reacted to Monday’s announcement of admissions cuts at all 23 California State University campuses for the spring 2013 semester.
Officials from the CSU’s headquarters in Southern California said that a possible $200 million budget cut—in addition to the $750 million in cuts already made this year—could necessitate the freeze. This $200 million deficit is a “trigger cut” that will take effect if voters reject a new tax proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown slated for the November ballot; if the initiative passes, Brown has said CSU funding will stay the same.
“Nothing is definite right now,” said Allan Bee, Chico State’s director of admissions. The news was delivered to university employees via a memorandum from CSU Chancellor Charles Reed, Bee said, and it’s impossible to tell for sure what impact it will have locally.
“We’ve got two things happening simultaneously today,” he said. “President Zingg is in meetings at the Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach, and we’re trying to see what exactly we can do to avoid or minimize cuts. There are so many variables involved; we’re just trying to anticipate different scenarios.”
Those variables dictate the degree by which admissions will be cut. While Reed’s memo announced a total freeze on all new admissions at most campuses, Chico State was one of eight that will receive partial cuts.
“In the past we’ve been allowed to admit transfer students, and we’re at least hoping for that,” Bee said.
Taken at face value, the cuts would translate to about 400 fewer students starting at Chico State in January 2013. As of fall 2011, Chico State had 15,920 students.
“It’s not what we want to do at all,” Bee said. “We try to maintain steady enrollment as much as possible. It’s better for our planning, better for current students and of course it’s important to keep the flow of new students coming in.
“On the other hand, it doesn’t do anyone any good if we’re not able to teach the students we do have, so it’s a delicate balancing act.”
Bee and his colleagues are hoping Chico State will be minimally affected.
“In the past we’ve been able to maintain enrollment in the face of cuts,” he said. In the 2010-11 academic year, admission was projected to drop by as many as 1,000 students, but Bee said the actual numbers were much less severe. Admission has been decreased over time, he said, with the student population peaking in fall 2007 at about 17,000 students.
“Unfortunately, this is where we’ve been living the past several years,” Bee said, referring to fiscally induced pressures to decrease enrollment.
Chico State’s been protected from taking major hits to enrollment because of its relatively large service area, which spans 12 North State counties, Bee said.
“A good deal of our students are place-bound; they aren’t able to travel for college,” he said. “A lot of these people have no other options in choosing a university.”
Closing off next spring’s admissions is the first step in the CSU’s plan to reduce enrollment by 20,000 to 25,000 students system-wide for 2013-2014, according to the Chancellor’s Office. (About 427,000 students are currently enrolled.)
Decreased enrollment doesn’t affect only students in a college town.
Frederica Shockley, an economics professor at Chico State, has studied the economic impacts of the university for 30 years. She told the CN&R in 2010 that the average student contributes about $10,000 to the local economy each school year. She also said each lost student equals roughly half a job loss. By these figures, losing 400 students could equal a $4 million, 200-job blow to the local economy.
“We understand this has tremendous impact on the North State and especially Chico, where the student population is a driving economic force,” Bee said. “We know our community is largely dependent on students. In bigger areas a few hundred fewer students is less likely to make a difference, but in Chico it could be devastating.
“In the past, President Zingg has been successful in stopping enrollment cuts by presenting these issues, and we’re holding out hope that’s the case.”