CSUN students continue to struggle because of budget cuts, tuition hikes and unit caps

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With more than 100 units completed and a few more to go, Krystal Brooks, a history major, was ready to graduate this year after five years at CSUN. She was ready to enter the workforce and continue her education on to law school, maybe USC, Southwestern or Hastings, she said. But as the Spring 2012 semester got underway, Brooks found herself with no classes.

“I must have crashed 25 to 26 classes,” Brooks said.

Despite her efforts, she was only able to add two classes at CSUN, one of which counts towards her major. One of the classes she needed was a political science course, but when she went to add, all eight available sections yielded no results.

Due to closed class sections, she has had to postpone her graduation, as well as her plans to go to law school and enter the workforce, because according to Brooks, she is not qualified without her degree. Rather than preparing for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Brooks commutes to two different campuses, CSUN and LACC, to get back to her original plans.

As the CSU prepares to further increase tuition and reduce course sections in an attempt to make up for the budget cuts it experienced earlier this year, the situation Brooks faced may be the case for many other students this upcoming semester. There could be more trigger cuts as the California state budget proposal continues to divest in higher education, according to this year’s budget proposal.

California Budget and Gov. Brown’s tax initiative

Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-2013 state budget proposal is estimated to set aside $9.377 billion for higher education, less than the amount the agency received last year, which was $9.821 billion. While the state cut $444 million in higher education, it increased funding to corrections and rehabilitations by $895 million.

On top of the more than $4 million projected decrease in state funds, higher education received more than a billion dollars in cuts during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years, according to last year’s budget.

This billion dollar decrease of state funds impacted CSUs particularly hard. The cutbacks translated to a $750 million decrease in state funds to the CSU system, according to a January Sundial article, and shifted the burden onto students. A recent independent analysis of the CSU revealed that the system receives less than half its money from the state, compared to past years when it accounted for 55 percent of the total money.

According to Dr. Howard Bunsis, accounting professor from Eastern Michigan University who conducted the analysis, 29 percent of the money is now coming from student tuition, as opposed to 22 percent in 2006.

The budget deficit has prompted various tax initiatives to arise in order to prevent future divesting in education and other sectors. Among these is Brown’s “California Sales and Income Tax Increase Initiative,” which merged with the California Federation of Teachers “Millionaire’s Tax” in March, and will be voted on this upcoming November.

Brown asked California voters in an open letter to temporarily increase tax revenues, otherwise, “We will have no other choice but to make deeper and more damaging cuts to schools, universities, public safety and our courts.”

If the initiative, which calls for a quarter cent increase in sales and use tax for four years as well as an increase in income tax for people earning over $250,000 for seven years, doesn’t pass the CSU will suffer $200 million in trigger cuts.

According to CSUN Vice Provost Dr. Cynthia Rawitch, there could be serious consequences if the tax initiative is not passed.

“Cuts to this campus would be $17 million of which the majority part would be in academic affairs, which is where the classes are. It’s the majority part because it gets the majority budget,” Rawitch said.

Tuition

As a result of the budget, students should prepare themselves for a 9 percent tuition increase this fall to help supplement where state-funds fell short. This will bring the cost of attendance for CSUN to $7,002 for the 2012-2013 academic year, according to the CSUN website.

“(The board of trustees) has said pretty directly that they do not plan another tuition fee increase next academic year, it will be that amount and no more,” Rawitch said.

The board of trustees could decide to have another mid-year increase if the shortfall in California income revenue is worse than estimated, but so far there have been no indication from them, according to Rawitch.

The 9 percent increase comes after the CSU trustees approved a 12 percent tuition hike last November for Fall 2011. From the 2007-2008 academic year, when Brooks entered CSUN, to this upcoming year, tuition has risen a total of $3,306, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Aside from tuition increases, CSUN announced it would cap the number of units students can take during a semester last November via email. The university only allowed students to enroll in 13 units during the registration-by-appointment period and 15 units during the non-restrictive registration.

According to a November 2011 Sundial article, this was done in order to avoid a $7 million penalty the university was facing for exceeding the CSU mandated enrollment capacity. CSUN was only allowed to go 3 percent over the targeted capacity, but was operating at 6.3 percent.

The unit cap will continue on to the fall semester. Students will be allowed to register for 13 units during the registration-by-appointment period and up to 16 units after the rest of the campus has had a chance to register.

Before the cap, students were allowed to take up to 18 units without any requirements.

Enrollment

Due to the budget cuts higher education has suffered, several CSU campuses will freeze enrollment for Spring 2013. Whether the “California Sales and Income Tax Increase Initiative” passes or not could greatly affect the plans of high school seniors planning to attend a CSU.

A recent L.A. Times article stated, “the majority of Cal State’s 23 campuses won’t be accepting any new students under the plan” with the exception of eight campuses which are willing to accept a few hundred students transferring from community colleges for the 2012-2013 academic year.

CSUN is not one of them.

All fall applicants will be warned that their admittance is dependent on whether the tax initiative passes or not, the article said.

“We believe we have enough classes scheduled and have controlled enrollment of new students that we will be able to offer students at least a minimum schedule, which would be 12 to 13 units,” Rawitch said for the fall semester.

“But for spring of 2013, we are admitting virtually no one,” she said.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has projected to raise “the high school graduation rate to 70 percent by 2013-14,” according to 2011 Superintendent’s Annual Meeting report.

This, along with the 2013 spring enrollment freeze, will have “an ever increasing impact on the Fall 2013 semester enrollments,” said Rawitch, when both transfer students and incoming freshman will be competing for enrollment.

As Bunsis, the professor who conducted the independent analysis on CSUN, predicted, 2012-2013 will be a difficult year for the university unless change is implemented.