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Cal State thaws admission freeze for nonresidents

Some campus leaders criticize plans to admit higher-paying out-of-state and international students while barring California residents.

August 16, 2012|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • Students walk on the campus of Cal State Northridge. Cal State will freeze spring 2013 enrollment on most of its 23 campuses to address at least $750 million in funding cuts.
Students walk on the campus of Cal State Northridge. Cal State will freeze… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

The California State University system is embroiled in a controversy over plans to admit higher-paying out-of-state and international students to its undergraduate and graduate programs next spring while barring California residents because of state funding cuts.

The issue has become so heated that department leaders on some campuses are saying that rather than turn away Californians, they will not accept any students into their programs.

"I don't want to come across as xenophobic," Maria Nieto, a professor of biology at Cal State East Bay who coordinates her department's graduate studies, said Thursday. "Diversity from the international community is always welcome.… But you do not run a program in the Cal State system and exclude California residents from the application pool to bring in out-of-state folks. It's not right."

Cal State announced earlier that it would freeze spring 2013 enrollment on most of its 23 campuses to address $750 million in funding cuts during the 2011-12 fiscal year and to position itself for a $250-million cut next year if voters reject a November tax measure supported by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Under the plan, 10 campuses will accept new students for the term, but enrollment would be limited to a few hundred community college transfer students and select other exceptions. Cal State's campuses typically receive 70,000 applications in the spring, and 16,000 students enroll.

But now campus leaders are reporting that Chancellor Charles B. Reed told them nonresident undergraduate and graduate students were exempt from the freeze because they pay higher fees; California residents are subsidized by the state.

California graduate students, for example, will pay $7,356 for the 2012-13 academic year, while nonresidents will pay an additional $372 per semester unit — or about $4,464 more for 12 units.

"We need to make appropriate enrollment cuts and that, unfortunately, has to be California residents," Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said Thursday. "If a campus has a program with the capacity to bring in students who are not subsidized and who are paying for the entirety of instruction, they could … bring in additional revenue that could go to benefit state residents."

Most of that capacity is at the graduate level, Uhlenkamp said. He said he was unsure which campuses planned to accept nonresidents and could not estimate the number of students who would be involved. Systemwide, slightly more than 300 nonresident students enrolled in the spring 2011 term, he said.

The typical spring enrollment in Cal State East Bay's graduate biology program is eight to 12 students, most of them California residents, Nieto said. But the policy, she said, sets a bad precedent.

"If the rationale is that you're getting surplus money from nonresident students, then what's to preclude the administration from expanding that to the fall and winter and summer terms?"

David Allison, president of the Cal State Student Assn., agreed.

"I do buy the fact that because of budget cuts, a lot of tough decisions have to be made," said Allison, 22, a senior at Cal State San Bernardino. "But all organizations have a mission statement and, in tough times, that's what that mission statement is for.

"The mission of Cal State is accessibility and affordability.… I find it troubling that students who are not California residents are being given priority."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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