CSU system juggling heavy costs and timely graduation rates


A screenshot of James T. Minor, CSU senior strategist for academic success and inclusive excellence, discussing CSU campus graduation rates during a media web conference.

Robert Spallone

CSU officials presented the potential for a tuition increase and a four-year-graduation initiative during a webcast Friday that covered the university system’s funding for the 2017-2018 school year.

With more than $5.3 billion at stake for the CSU’s support budget, the university system is balancing the needs of 23 state campuses.

The support budget is primarily funded through the state and student tuition fees, according to numbers provided during the webcast.

Planning for the 2017-2018 school year is based on an economic outlook for the state of California and the national economy, according to Ryan Storm, CSU assistant vice chancellor for budget.

“The economy’s growth that we’ve seen in recent years is beyond historical averages, and we are likely facing a recessionary cycle in the near future,” Storm said. “The expectation of a downturn in economic growth may have a negative impact on the state’s general fund and its ability to further augment its recent investments in CSU.”

Costs that CSU systems must account for include increases to employee benefits, operations and maintenance, and an increase in cost due to state laws that raised minimum wage, along with other costs, according to Storm.

The expenditures are expected to be approximately $346 million, according to projections provided during the web seminar.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s funding commitment and tuition revenue based on a one percent increase in students puts the 2017-2018 revenue at $177 million.

That leaves a gap of roughly $169 million, which will require efforts seeking more money from the state.

If the efforts fail, the CSU has a few options that will affect students.

The first possibility is cutting costs by getting rid of academic and non-academic programs and services. The second consideration from the chancellor’s office is an increase in tuition, said Storm.

The tuition proposal will be presented to the board of trustees in November, according to Storm. The state will make its final budget decision in the summer of 2017.

Even as economic outlook may be glum, the CSU officials are planning for the Grad Initiative 2025 which focuses on freshman students graduating in four years and transfer students in two years.

The CSU preliminary plan is already directing $75 million dollars to improve graduation rates—a bulk of which will cover more courses for students, according to Storm.

“There’s a lot of caution around not trading the interest in graduating more students with academic rigor,” said James T. Minor, CSU senior strategist for academic success and inclusive excellence. “Is it possible to maintain if not improve academic rigor while at the same time graduating a higher percentage of students?”

The focus on students who attend the CSU system suggests that many students believe they will graduate on time, according to Minor.

“The idea is not to dictate that students ought to graduate in four years,” Minor said. “The diversity of our students suggest to us that we also have thousands of students across the CSU who come to campus with the expectation that they will graduate four years later.”