Credit: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
Cal State Dominguez Hills

Decreases in Cal State enrollment have officials worried.

Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester first warned last year that enrollment projections were down across the 23 campus system. She now concludes that those drops are real and can undermine Cal State operations.

“Our enrollment projections are unprecedented and deeply concerning,” Koester said, during the CSU board of trustees meeting Tuesday.

The system is continuing to project that it will be 7% below its state-funded target of 383,680 for resident students during the 2022-23 academic year — that’s more than 25,000 full-time equivalent students. The decreases are due to the effects of the pandemic and long-term declining birth rates.

“Should this enrollment decline become sustained it will present a fundamental and significant threat to our missions, to the fundamental viability of our universities and the future of the communities that we serve,” Koester said.

Despite the decrease in enrollment, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s January budget included a general fund increase of $227 million — a 5% increase — to the CSU system. That increase is tied to a multiyear compact made between the state and the university system that expects increasing enrollment.

The CSU system’s enrollment initially began to decline in 2019 before increasing to its highest level ever in 2020. By 2021, 17 of 23 campuses saw declines. Steve Relyea, an executive vice chancellor for the system, said the declines are similar to what is happening to four-year universities nationally.

In 2020, the CSU system bucked national in declining enrollment, indicating that that year may have been an outlier.

In May 2022, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported undergraduate student enrollment had fallen by more than 1.4 million students or 9.4% since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the center pointed out that the drop was part of a decadelong decline in national enrollment, Relyea said.

The declines across CSU can be attributed to several factors. For example, the number of students transferring to the system from the state’s community colleges is down. This year, the system enrolled about 46,300 transfer students — the lowest number in seven years. But Relyea said the majority of the decline is due to changes in continuing students and retention, with students taking fewer courses.

And not all campuses have seen declines or as large of declines as others in the system. Seven universities are more than 10% below their state-funded enrollment target, including: CSU Channel Islands, Chico State, CSU East Bay, CSU Maritime, Cal Poly Humboldt, San Francisco State and Sonoma State.

In response, each university was assigned an enrollment liaison officer by the chancellor’s office to help the campuses strategically plan ways and methods to increase enrollment. The campuses will also face decreases in funding. The system announced that it would reallocate funding increases only to those universities that meet or exceed their enrollment targets.

If those seven campuses are still down in enrollment by 2024-25, they would see a 5% cut in funding that would then be distributed to the other campuses.

Relyea said the system is giving those seven campuses time to work with the chancellor’s office to put programs in place to engage students and prevent a significant shift in funding.

CSU is also launching a dual admission program later this spring to boost transfer enrollment. The program will model one offered between CSU Long Beach and Long Beach City College that allows students to enroll at both institutions simultaneously if they’re interested in pursuing a transfer path.

“While this is not a unique experience among colleges and universities nationwide, an enrollment decline of this magnitude and under these circumstances requires coordinated university-level responses,” Relyea said, adding that the changes would help push campuses to boost enrollment.

Trustee Julia Lopez said the trends in high schools across the state show enrollment will continue to decline, which means more campuses than the seven that have seen decreases will be affected.

“All the high school enrollment trends are going down,” she said, adding that the problem isn’t relegated to specific parts of the state.  “We have changing demographics, and that’s real, and it’s going to hit everyone.”

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  1. Cheryl 1 day ago1 day ago

    The University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems are two of the most respected and well-regarded public higher education systems in the world. Both systems have a long history of providing high-quality education to students from all backgrounds and have played a critical role in driving California's economic growth and prosperity. However, despite their many strengths, both systems are facing significant challenges in the form of rising costs, declining state funding, and … Read More

    The University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems are two of the most respected and well-regarded public higher education systems in the world. Both systems have a long history of providing high-quality education to students from all backgrounds and have played a critical role in driving California’s economic growth and prosperity. However, despite their many strengths, both systems are facing significant challenges in the form of rising costs, declining state funding, and growing demand for access to higher education.

    One solution to these challenges is to advocate for a merger of the UC and CSU systems. Such a merger would bring together the best of both worlds and create a more efficient and effective system that would benefit California students and taxpayers.

    First and foremost, a merger would create significant cost savings for both students and taxpayers. By consolidating administrative and administrative services, the merger would eliminate duplicative costs and reduce expenses. This would translate into lower tuition and fees for students, as well as reduced costs for taxpayers who fund the public higher education system.

    Second, a merger would create a more streamlined and efficient system, making it easier for students to navigate and access the resources and services they need to succeed. By eliminating duplicative programs and services, a merger would create a more focused and cohesive system that would be better able to meet the needs of students.

    Third, a merger would increase access to higher education for students from all backgrounds. By bringing together the resources and expertise of the two systems, a merger would open up new opportunities for students who might otherwise be unable to afford or access a higher education.

    As for the geographical benefit, a merger would allow the UC system to expand its reach to more regions of California, making higher education more accessible to a greater number of students. By merging with the CSU system, the UC system would be able to establish new campuses in areas currently served by the CSU system, thus increasing the availability of high-quality higher education to students in those regions. Additionally, using the UC reputation, the merged system could attract more students and faculty from other regions and countries, further benefiting the state’s economy and reputation.

    Finally, a merger would help to position California as a global leader in higher education. By creating a larger, more dynamic and diverse system, a merger would enable California to attract the best and brightest students and faculty from around the world, further strengthening the state’s economy and reputation.

    Overall, a merger of the UC and CSU systems would be a win-win for California students and taxpayers. It would create significant cost savings, make the system more efficient and effective, increase access to higher education, and position California as a global leader in higher education. It is time for the California legislature, government, and people to advocate for this merger and take advantage of the many benefits it would bring.

  2. Donna Post 2 days ago2 days ago

    People aren’t willing to go into debt for their entire lives for education. It costs too much, community colleges are getting the job done.

  3. Colleen Martin 2 days ago2 days ago

    The CSU must start to advertise at local high schools the career focused majors they have. Accounting, teaching, engineering, construction management. Very few of the 23 offered to come visit my high school this year. And when they visit- send someone who did not just graduate, but someone who is experienced in admissions. The CSU faculty must teach in person. No one wants to have their child pay for high priced on- campus living for their … Read More

    The CSU must start to advertise at local high schools the career focused majors they have. Accounting, teaching, engineering, construction management.

    Very few of the 23 offered to come visit my high school this year. And when they visit- send someone who did not just graduate, but someone who is experienced in admissions.

    The CSU faculty must teach in person. No one wants to have their child pay for high priced on- campus living for their child to be taking classes from their dorm room. What is best for students? must be the CSU mantra.

  4. Tarra Knotts 3 days ago3 days ago

    A few years ago Edsource looked at the low number of kids that are A to G ready. I assume this got worse doing Covid years. Is there a correlated trend – kids can’t go to a university b/c they are not graduating with the right credits to apply? Or is this an economic thing?