Photo by Earlham College

Photo by Earlham College

California State University is once again severely limiting spring enrollment due to state budget cutbacks and the fear of more reductions.

The university announced on Monday that because of $750 million in funding cuts in the 2011–12 school year and the prospect of another $250 million in losses if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative* does not pass, only 10 campuses will accept students in spring 2013, and even those campuses will enroll a limited number.

The CSU system includes 23 campuses serving about 427,000 students throughout the state.

With few exceptions, only those students who have completed an “associate degree of transfer” from a California community college will be allowed to enroll this coming spring.

Very few students have earned this degree, which community colleges began offering only about 18 months ago, said university spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. The degree is so new that the university has yet to set up a website explaining how it works.

“Traditionally 16,000 to 18,000 students transfer,” he said. “We don’t know how many have earned this degree, but it will be far less than this number.”

Senate Bill 1440, which was passed in September 2010, created the degree in order to establish a smoother path for community college students who want to transfer to the Cal State system. In many community colleges, the requirements for an associate degree differ from what is required to transfer to CSU or the University of California.

“As a result, many transfer students leave the community college system having completed transfer requirements, but are unable to participate in community college graduation ceremonies, do not have a degree to show for their work, and are ineligible for some awards and scholarships because they did not fulfill requirements for an associate degree,” according to SB 1440.

The law now requires the California State University “to guarantee admission with junior status to any community college student who meets the requirements for the associate degree for transfer.” However, it also states that there is no guarantee of admission for specified majors or campuses.

By allowing those few students who have completed the degree to transfer, Cal State is “honoring the spirit of the legislation,” Uhlenkamp said.

Although Uhlenkamp had no estimate of how many students will be affected by the limited enrollment, he said the numbers are probably similar to those students denied admittance during a similar enrollment freeze due to budget cutbacks in spring 2010. Most of the students who enroll during spring are transfer students, he said.

Transfer students in 2009–10 dropped by more than 12,000 compared with 2008–09, according to data from CSU. The following year, when legislators restored funding to CSU, the university saw a surge in transfers – from 37,647 in 2009–10 to 56,959 in 2010–11, an increase of more than 50 percent.

However, that might not be the case in fall 2013. CSU plans to wait-list applicants pending the outcome of Proposition 30, Gov. Brown’s tax initiative on the November ballot. In addition, many CSU campuses that have significantly more qualified applicants than they can accept have raised their admission requirements and no longer guarantee admission to local qualified residents.

“Providing access to a quality education for students of California continues to be a bigger challenge as ongoing reductions in state funding are forcing campuses to reduce enrollment to match the level of available funds,” said Ephraim Smith, CSU executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer, in a statement about the enrollment freeze. “An additional midyear cut [if the initiative fails] could result in even further reductions to enrollment.”

Uhlenkamp said that at the July meeting, the CSU Board of Trustees was looking at two different “strategic packages” should the initiatives fail. Under one scenario, enrollment would be reduced. Under the second scenario, tuition would be increased. The trustees, who will vote on the matter in September, have not looked at a package that includes both of these approaches, he said.

If the ballot measure does pass, the funding level would be the same as last year, Uhlenkamp said, so CSU would not be looking at enrolling more students or creating more classes than they had last year, he added.

For the spring 2013 application period, only Channel Islands, Chico, Fullerton, East Bay, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Francisco, and Sonoma will be accepting applications, according to Uhlenkamp. Students who have earned an associate degree for transfer can begin submitting applications on Aug. 1.

* Gov. Brown’s initiative is one of two tax initiatives on the November ballot that would provide funding for public education. The other initiative, supported by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, would provide funds for K–12 education and early childhood education. For more information, see an EdSource post on the initiatives.

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