Alma material needs

Most people dread Tax Day. Even for those who get deductions taken from every paycheck, April 15 represents the time Americans open our checkbooks and send hard-earned dough to the government.

Paul Zingg pays taxes (more than many of us, based on his six-figure salary). Yet, for him, Tax Day represents hope. As president of Chico State University, he depends on state revenues to operate his institution. That funding has shrunk significantly over the past year, and millions more may vanish before fall semester.

Already, Chico will lose about $1.5 million in enrollment fees this fall because of a systemwide scaling back of admissions, which Zingg expects to translate into about 500 fewer students (400 full-time equivalents) on campus. Meanwhile, the CSU system took a $50 million hit this academic year and may take another for 2009-10, which translates to roughly $2 million a pop for Chico State.

But, let’s back up a moment. If cutting students will cost the university, why not keep ’em—or add more?

The knee-jerk answer is that $3,750 isn’t enough to educate a full-time student for a full academic year—particularly since the CSU shaves a third of that off the top to set aside for financial aid. Chico State’s current rate is $11,090 (dividing the $177 million budget by 15,963 full-time equivalents); the CSU formula for “marginal cost of funding” puts the expense of instructing a student at around $10,500.

Obviously, there’s room to maneuver between the two extremes. The university trimmed expenses earlier in the year and is considering further savings, such as going to a schedule of four 10-hour days for the 10 weeks of summer to cut back on electricity use (i.e. air conditioning). But that’s not going to save millions.

The crux of the crunch is maximizing the education that gets delivered … which takes the solution out of the realm Zingg controls unilaterally.

Chico State has a system of shared governance—the Academic Senate, for instance, has authority in some matters. Plus, unionized employees have contracts with specific parameters. So while the university president holds a powerful office, his power has limits.

It’s a system Zingg supports. What it means, though, is that the dean of each college needs to talk with his or her faculty before determining whether profs can—or would—log more classroom time.

The late Richard Ek, the former Journalism Department chair who was one of the university’s most active watchdogs, long pointed a finger at “released time”—teaching credit given to profs for out-of-classroom activities. Some is necessary: Department chairs have administrative duties, and every instructor must have the opportunity to stay at the forefront of his or her field. Some may not be so vital. This must be parsed.

Chico State needs to get bang out of every buck. As administrators, faculty and staff look out at the sea of graduates this weekend, I hope they’ll all remember the reason their institution exists.

By the way: One of Chico State’s seniors is following commencement with employment at the CN&R. Kenna Cook (better known by the byline Kenna Hunt, her maiden name) accepted the position of calendar editor, with an eye toward writing as well. Kenna was the entertainment editor at the Orion for fall semester, and her dual focus of journalism and cinema studies should serve her well here. We’re excited she’s part of the team.