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A welcome new option for Cal State trustees: spend, not cut

The trustees' spending proposals mark a turnaround for the Cal State system, which has struggled through years of tuition hikes, enrollment freezes and class cuts.

March 19, 2013|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • A Chicano history class at Cal State Northridge. For the first time in recent years, Cal State trustees this week will discuss ways to spend additional money rather than cut the budget. On the table: enrolling more students, giving faculty pay raises and increasing online classes.
A Chicano history class at Cal State Northridge. For the first time in recent… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

For the first time in recent years, California State University trustees this week will discuss ways to spend additional money rather than cut the budget. On the table: enrolling more students, giving faculty pay raises and increasing online classes.

The trustees' spending proposals, unveiled during a conference call with reporters Monday, mark a turnaround for the Cal State system, which has struggled through years of tuition hikes, enrollment freezes and class cuts.

The change is largely because of voter-approved Proposition 30, which was supported by Gov. Jerry Brown and temporarily increases sales taxes and income taxes on higher earners to help fund public education.

Brown's 2013-14 budget provides $125.1 million in new funding each for Cal State and the University of California, including $10 million for each system to boost online learning and develop other technologies to help students attain degrees faster.

The Board of Trustees, which will meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Long Beach, is not expected to take any budget actions. Brown is expected to attend the Tuesday meeting.

The governor's plan would increase university budgets by 4% to 5% for four years and calls for no tuition hikes during that period. The proposal must be approved by the Legislature.

But it marks a step forward, said Robert Turnage, Cal State's assistant vice chancellor for budget.

"It provides for the first time in half a decade the opportunity for the university to engage in some stable planning … and that in itself is welcome," Turnage said. "After struggling through some of the toughest times in Cal State history, the system has to address critical needs."

While many details still must be worked out, $21.7 million under Cal State's plan would be used to admit nearly 6,000 more students next fall, increase class offerings, and hire additional faculty and staff.

Online classes would be focused on the "bottleneck" courses that are high in demand but also have high failure rates, slowing students down. Some of those courses would be redesigned, reducing the need for students to repeat them.

Campuses would also boost the number of online courses and use Web-based laboratories, electronic textbooks and online advising.

Officials also want to counsel students earlier to help them establish career goals — an effort to discourage them from changing those plans before graduating.

"They're taking up additional seats and wind up with excess units," said Eric Forbes, assistant vice chancellor for student academic services. "If we can intervene earlier, we can guide them toward their selected career sooner."

About $38 million would pay for salary increases for most faculty and staff — except for the chancellor, campus presidents and other senior administrators. Compensation packages would still need to be negotiated through collective bargaining with the employee unions.

Trustees have been criticized — including by the governor — for awarding some new campus presidents 10% pay raises while tuition was increased and other cuts were made.

The pay proposal is a "welcome change," said Lillian Taiz, president of the Cal State Faculty Assn.

"I think we used to talk about tone deafness, and I think we're seeing a sensitivity we haven't seen in the past," said Taiz, who teaches history at Cal State Los Angeles.

A large share of funding — $48.2 million — would pay for mandatory costs such as healthcare benefits, and maintenance and energy costs connected with new construction.

Additionally, about $7.2 million would fund an incentive pool awarded to campuses with innovative strategies to shorten students' time to graduation and improve outcomes for underserved students and first-time freshmen.

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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