University’s excellence at risk

Scott G. McNall is the interim president of California State University, Chico

Amid the grim talk about the state budget deficit and its impact on CSU, Chico, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of academic quality. When our students cannot receive an outstanding education from us, we are not doing our jobs, and we are putting their futures at risk. The simple fact is that, if we do not have enough money to pay for the faculty, staff and facilities our students need, we cannot maintain academic excellence.

Many of you know the importance of a college degree—along with its intrinsic value, it is a powerful indicator of future earning power. Thus, it’s extremely painful to contemplate turning away students because of insufficient funds. However, it’s also painful to enroll students and not provide them with the quality programs they deserve. In the early 1990s, when the state also experienced a budget deficit, we had students who could not get the classes they needed to graduate. We do not want to go down that road again.

The hard but proper choice for us is to link enrollment and resources. More than $300 million was taken out of the CSU-wide budget for this year, a decrease more than double the entire budget of CSU, Chico. The budget provided for only 3-percent enrollment growth in the system. This meant 10,000 students were turned away across the CSU, including 500 at CSU, Chico. Future cuts will mean fewer students and a reduction in programs.

More cuts by the state are certainly coming, as the Legislature and new governor try to solve the multibillion-dollar deficit. At CSU, Chico, roughly $10 million has been taken out of our budget over the past two years. This represents a cut of close to 10 percent. We are still able to provide students with a full schedule of classes but have had to increase student-faculty ratios and slash budgets in all other areas of the university. Simply put, we do not have other places to cut without putting at risk the quality for which we have become known. When the new reductions come from the state, we will have to reduce enrollment.

For 106 years, Chico has been successfully serving the educational needs of students, whether they be prospective teachers, scientists, engineers or poets. The campus and community are justifiably proud of these achievements. We have consistently provided students with a quality education. The university is ranked third among master’s-level public universities in the West by U.S. News and World Report; our students have won national awards this year in journalism, engineering, political science and communication; we are among the CSU leaders in retaining our students and graduating them into the workforce. This commitment to excellence and success is now at risk.