Two dirty words have been circulating around CSUN since last year.
CSUN students protested earlier last month, challenging tuition hikes and the reduced amount of classes offered for summer and fall.
While these protests come from genuinely concerned students, their actions may be misguided because CSU doesn’t act autonomously.
CSUN Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Harry Hellenbrand, realizes the CSU’s situation.
“I don’t know if there is a lot they can add at the moment because they are creatures of the legislature,” he said.
Even though students feel the effects of these budget cuts now, Hellenbrand says CSUN is not in a dire situation yet.
“Right now we’re in rather good shape,” he said. “We anticipated a lot of this stuff a couple of years ago, so we’ve actually cut the budget by a significant amount of money and put it in reserves. We’ve been holding money centrally.”
This doesn’t mean CSUN is safe from further cuts.
“I don’t want to make it sound easy,” he said. “If the state budget worsens and goes beyond what we’ve put aside, then we’ll have a larger problem to deal with.”
As students face a 10 percent increase in tuition, fewer classes to choose from and a smaller chance of being accepted to the university, the issue of slashing Cal Grants, which help lower income students pay for college, has also been a fear.
At a university where many people rely on financial aid, getting rid of Cal Grants could severely affect the ability of students to attend.
But, Hellenbrand says eliminating Cal Grants wouldn’t be a wise decision for the CSU system.
“People who get Cal Grants typically also get Pell Grants,” he said. “So, if you do away with Cal Grants entirely for people who need the money, then you end up reducing the amount of federal money the state gets through Pell Grants. This becomes counterproductive.”
Hellenbrand says if usual financial aid requirements apply, such as the student is in good standing while taking a full course load, with a family income of up to $50,000 he or she will still have their entire tuition covered.
Even students who come from a family income of up to $100,000 will still be eligible for as much as $2,000 in aid.
“The answer is not to do away with Cal Grants, but to see if there is a more surgical way of doing these sorts of changes,” Hellenbrand said.
Even a meeting among the CSU presidents, which has been postponed until June 3, isn’t encouraging to Hellenbrand.
He doesn’t foresee a solution in the near future as long as the state still struggles with its budget.
“It’s all nonsense. Who knows when these guys are going to make a decision about something,” he said. “I don’t mean the CSU, I mean the state. They don’t have a viable plan right now.”
As for the future of California, Hellenbrand says the short-term solutions, like turning away 10,000 students from the 23 campuses, won’t compensate for the long-term effects on the state.
“If your short term solutions are to discourage people from going to college or not funding the community colleges, then you create a gap and you worsen the problem long-term instead of improving it,” he said.
Either way CSU and other public educational institutions face a long road ahead.
Hellenbrand says the state has forgotten how to govern itself, which is the main problem behind these budget cuts.
“Rules are not an answer for judgment,” he said. “But, here in California we decided that we need a rule for everything. You get enough rules, then we don’t need government. But, that’s backfired.”