Staff Editorial, Week 6: Is the CSU working for California?

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The California State University (CSU) Web site states its mission is to ‘provide high-quality, affordable education to meet the ever-changing needs of the people of California’ and that ‘the CSU is the university system that is working for California.’

Yet, how is this system’mdash;with 23 campuses, about 450,000 students and 47,000 faculty and staff’mdash;supposed to continue to make available reasonably priced, valuable education as the state Legislature rearranges the budget and dramatically reduces the state general fund support that is crucial to the CSU?

This cutback not only stymies the operation of the CSU, lowering funding by about 10 percent, or $283 million below, what is functionally necessary, but it also greatly impacts the future California workforce.

According to a CSU press release, the 2009-2010 fiscal year will be the second year that the CSU system will not receive state funding for increased enrollment. During fall 2008, the CSU responded and declared impaction, capping enrollment system-wide by 10,000 students. This means that CSUN will deny entry to about 1,800 full-time equivalent students come fall 2009.

The state currently subsidizes 52 percent of the costs of higher education within the CSU system according to a presentation given by CSUN Provost Harry Hellenbrand. Student fees contribute an additional 27 percent and University Advancement, Extended Learning and other funds, cover the remainder. Unlike the University of California (UC) system, the CSU does not receive a significant portion of its support from out of state funds.

A considerable segment of California’s labor force is educated in the CSU system. Vital trades such as nursing, agriculture, business, public administration and technology will be negatively affected should’ the budget cuts continue to decrease the CSU system’s ability to produce a large enough pool of graduates for these industries. Cyclically, this decreased workforce will then further diminish the economic strength of the state overall.

As we enter into this new political and social epoch, a challenging and shifting time that will require a population well-versed in ‘higher education,’ we must address the damaging effects of haste, necessity and commoditization as they relate to university-level education.

In an increasingly competitive work environment, the bachelor’s degree has become the new high school diploma. As more young adults seek to continue their education and as a result broaden their prospects for employment (never mind expanding their mental faculties), institutions of higher learning, particularly state-funded systems, are faced with new and increasingly difficult challenges as they attempt to meet students’ needs and remain fiscally viable.

If the current financial difficulties facing the CSU system are any indication of the challenges to come, we may have to readdress whether or not ‘the CSU is’ really ‘the university system that is working for California.’