Amid ongoing uncertainty over state support for higher education, California's public colleges and universities heralded a rare bit of good news Thursday, announcing they will receive more than $200 million in federal stimulus funds that will allow many campuses to admit new students, restore courses and retain faculty and staff.
The University of California and California State University each will receive $106 million, and the California Community Colleges $5 million. The money is one-time funding, the final round of dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The universities are still awaiting passage of a stalemated state budget that may or may not include restoration of some of the millions in funding cuts sustained in the last three years.
Still, the federal money at least temporarily will stave off new rounds of bloodletting, officials said. Cal State announced Thursday that it will admit as many as 10,000 new students for the winter and spring terms, out of approximately 41,000 applications it has received thus far. The university will also restore about 3,000 course sections and ramp up student services such as library hours that had been cut.
In a statement, Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed said he appreciated the efforts of state officials and the Legislature to secure the federal funds but added, "Despite this influx of one-time funding , it is essential that the state will continue to uphold its commitment to higher education and restore state funding as currently outlined in the budget."
Use of the federal money will vary from campus to campus. Cal State L.A. will receive about $5.25 million in stimulus funds and will be able to admit about 366 new students in the winter and fall, spokesman Paul Browning said.
At San Jose State, officials said that they are still crunching the numbers but that the money would probably be used to restore course sections and rehire laid-off faculty.
The campus has not decided whether any new students will be admitted, nor what criteria would be used to determine which of thousands of qualified applicants would be given a spot.
"A question we continue to study and be concerned about is fairness for all of our applicants," spokeswoman Pat Lopes Harris said.
Adding new course sections and retaining faculty will relieve some of the pressures that have burdened students, said Gregory Washington, 20, a senior at Cal State Fullerton who is also vice president of legislative affairs for the Cal State Student Assn.
For example, last year, Washington said he had to put off some course requirements for his double major of political science and organizational communications when classes were offered at the same time. "With more course options, we have the ability to work around our schedule, more options to work and more time to study," Washington said.
University of California campuses will probably use the stimulus funds to retain faculty and support staff, said Patrick Lenz, UC vice president for budget and capital resources. Last school year, the university took a cut of $637 million in state funding, laid off about 2,000 employees and left 1,600 jobs vacant, Lenz said.
This fall, with the state budget still not finalized, campuses have dipped into their reserves to the tune of about $189 million to provide student financial aid, and some stimulus funds may be used to backfill that support, Lenz said. The governor's proposed budget includes about $371 million in restored funding.
"We are concerned as everyone else is that with each passing week the budget is not enacted, the state will lose the ability to restore that funding," Lenz said.
California's community colleges will use the new funds to retain student support services such as financial aid staff and academic counselors as well as services for disabled students, said Chris Yatooma, director of fiscal policy for the colleges. The system sustained a $520-million cut in state funding in the 2009-2010 school year with a 40% cutback in student support programs.
This year the demand for such programs is greater than ever.
"Support services are what keep students in class and on the right track," Yatooma said. "With enrollment cutbacks and fee increases at UC and CSU, we're getting more of those students, and 12% unemployment is driving more people to our doors. We don't want those students falling through the cracks."