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State University System Gets Crunched

by Susannah Kopecky, published

As California heads through January, ever closer to the magical date of February 1, all California citizens face a startling truth: the state is rapidly heading toward becoming, for lack of a better word, broke.

Governor Schwarzenegger has already designated February 1 as the proverbial point of no return, after which, if the state legislature doesn’t take immediate and decisive action, the state will no longer be solvent enough to keep hanging out checks. Rather, state workers and those expecting tax refunds may instead expect to receive IOUs. As fun as it might sound to receive such a novelty item from the state, the novelty may wear off faster for those who rely on the state government to pay their bills and buy food.

Another victim in state’s projected $42 billion budget shortfall is the intricate system of colleges within the state. The community colleges will surely take a hit, though they already rely on less money in research funding than the California State Universities, which in turn rely on even fewer research funding dollars than the University of California system.

According to new reports, the UC system is being directed to cut 2009 freshman enrollment by about 6 percent, or between 2,000 and 2,500 new students. Interestingly, there is no “typical” pattern here, as each UC school has chosen different procedures to follow. The entire UC system is being forced to cut back a total of 2,300 new students, though some of the UC’s are increasing enrollment, while others prepare to cut back by more than 10 percent.

According to new reports, UC Berkeley and UC Merced will increase its freshman class, by 80 and 155, respectively, while UCSD and UCSB face student cuts of between 6 and 12 percentage points. UCLA’s project change is very minor. According to UC President Mark Yudof, the enrollment cut “actually is a modest reduction in that it aims to bring our enrollments into line with our resources over several years rather than in a single year.…In future years, of course, we hope the state will be able to focus on investing in California's human capital and provide the resources necessary for expanded opportunity in public higher education.” The UC regents also agreed to freeze the salaries of some of its top administrators. The UC system currently educates about 220,000 students every year.

The CSU system is preparing to cut nearly five times the number of enrollments as the UC system, down about 10,000 new freshman admittances. However, the CSU college system only serves about one-third of the number of students that the UC system does, serving about 45,000 per year.

Both the CSU and UC system will endure projected budget cuts of more than $130 million as the budget is tightened to deal with the mounting deficit. Already there have been executive orders to halt construction on newly planned projects on public campuses, such as new buildings and renovations to some older structures. California State University Dominguez and Easy Bay are both victims to the cash shortage, each containing units that were planned to undergo renovations, or to be completed projects. All CSU’s have also been ordered to go on a hiring freeze since January 9, when CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed requested the CSU universities to do so. According to Reed, the CSU system will fall nearly $16 million short of the funds necessary to run the CSU system in 2009-2010. Reed summed up the CSU situation as such: “We have… been forced to suspend and shut down state-funded design and construction projects on all of our campuses in response to the state’s freezing of $600 million in general-obligation and lease revenue bonds used to finance these projects. Unfortunately, hundreds of projects will be affected including libraries, performing arts centers, classrooms, administration buildings, seismic upgrades, laboratories and more.”

What will be different about the typical UC and CSU campus next year? For all CSU's, and for some exempt UC’s, there will be significantly less construction of new buildings, and a likely plateau of new programs, at least for the coming year, as the universities work to make enough money to stay in business.

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