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Budget cuts hit broad swath of Cal State

The effects are rippling through the university system, touching students, teachers and administrators alike.

November 29, 2009|By Carla Rivera
  • Giulio Della Rocca, a math professor at Cal State Long Beach, holds 1-year-old daughter Giulia. The university canceled one of his classes, cutting his income by 20%. He also must take two unpaid furlough days each month.
Giulio Della Rocca, a math professor at Cal State Long Beach, holds 1-year-old… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

Rochelle Corros is passionate when she speaks about her college major: Recreation and leisure studies is not just fun and games, she says with conviction. Graduates run city and state parks, recreation departments, hospital clinics, theaters and cruise lines. They help keep kids off the streets.

So the Cal State Dominguez Hills senior was floored by an August letter from administrators telling her that admissions to the program would be suspended and courses slashed as the campus grappled with steep budget reductions.

Corros, 25, had to scramble to replace one canceled class this fall and no longer knows if she will be able to complete her studies by next winter as planned.

"It's really stressful and really frustrating," she said. "Some college students may just want to get by, but others want to plan their education semester by semester and have an eye on a deadline. . . . Now I don't know if any of the classes I need are going to be offered."

Corros is hardly alone as she tries to plan for an uncertain future. These days, the California State University system -- the nation's largest with 23 campuses and 450,000 students -- seems like a ship unmoored. With its lifeline of state funding cut more than half a billion dollars this fiscal year, Cal State, along with other California schools, has been unable to avoid unprecedented student fee hikes, staff and faculty furloughs, and deep reductions in enrollment.

Many campuses are planning for historic program reductions that could greatly narrow academic options, alter the career plans of thousands of students and, ultimately, further harm California's shaky economy, experts say.

The Cal State cutbacks are not uniform. Each campus was allocated reductions based on various criteria, including enrollment. Allowances were made for smaller campuses and those with large proportions of financial aid students.

Among recent cost-saving measures across the university, Cal State Stanislaus is canceling its winter term and will move next year to a more traditional two-semester schedule. The school, in Turlock, near Modesto, cut 50 part-time faculty and 192 course offerings this fall; several hundred more classes will probably be eliminated in the spring.

Humboldt State closed its popular Natural History Museum. It was the only such museum in largely rural Humboldt County and attracted thousands of visitors annually. The campus is the county's second-largest employer; the economics department estimates that twice monthly staff and faculty furloughs have sapped the local economy of $8.6 million.

Administrators at Dominguez Hills closed the student newspaper and may eliminate some small academic programs, including music, art and Chicano studies.

The Cal State system often does not get the same attention as the University of California, but in the state's master plan for higher education, Cal State is the workhorse of undergraduate academics, producing 60% of public school bachelor's degrees, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

"It serves a more diverse population than UC; it's more representative," said Hans Johnson, an associate director at the institute. "It's very large, very important and a key component in producing our workforce."

California already faces a skills gap, with demand for educated workers outstripping supply. Cal State's cuts will only exacerbate the problem, Johnson said. The system reduced enrollment by 4,000 students in the fall and expects to cut 40,000 more in the next two years. The state will suffer from those decisions, he said.

The following student, faculty member and administrator are among those on the front lines:

Student's plight

Corros, of Lakewood, earned an associate's degree in liberal studies from Cypress College before transferring to Dominguez Hills last year. But for as long as she can remember, she has loved spending time with children, finding their energy and creativity an inspiration.

She worked in a program helping autistic children learn academic and play skills and decided that recreation studies would provide opportunities beyond the typical 9-to-5 desk job. It didn't matter to her that it wasn't a big program at the campus, unlike business, for example.

"When you think about recreation, you're not going to think high enrollment. But if you say it's not important to the world, that's wrong," she said.

At a meeting early in the school year, lower division recreation students were advised to consider changing majors because it was unclear which classes would be available, she said. She had just enough credits to continue.

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