Cuts Could Exacerbate State Transfer System Flaws

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Proposed Budget Cuts

Lead Higher Education Reporter Jordan Bach-Lombardo talks with Nina Brown about the difficulties that might arise for students moving from a California Community College to a state-funded university.

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The proposed $1.4 billion cut to California's three higher education institutions could exacerbate flaws in the transfer system for students moving from a California Community College to a state-funded university and lead to a deficit of "highly skilled and educated workers," rendering a harsh impact on the state's economy, according to higher education officials and policy analysts.

As the University of California and California State University are facing potential cuts of 16.4 percent and 18 percent respectively, their continued ability to meet the conditions set forth in the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education - which requires that they maintain a 40:60 lower to upper division ratio to allow room for incoming transfer juniors - is uncertain.

"If there is no room for (transfers) at the university because of budget cuts, then it doesn't really matter how much you streamline that process," said Hans Johnson, director of research at the Public Policy Institute of California. "You'll have students who are qualified and ready to transfer, but there is no room for them."

Limiting access, said CSU spokesperson Erik Fallis, will in the long-run result in fewer highly-skilled and educated workers to fill "high growth, high-demand positions."

An effort to improve the transfer process - which Fallis said allows too many people to fall through the cracks between community colleges and the state universities - began last fall when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two bills meant to streamline the transfer process with the intent of opening up more seats and funds at the community college level.

Since 2007-08, state funding for the CSU has dropped by 23 percent, returning to 1999 levels although the system is accommodating 70,000 more students, according to Fallis. Thus far, CSU has managed to maintain the Master Plan ratio, although Fallis added that "clearly if CSU doesn't have the funding to provide for as many students as we like, that's going to affect transfer students as well as first time freshmen."

In the case of the UC, the university has tried to make good on the statement in the UC Commission on the Future Final Report that UC President Mark Yudof has "deepened UC's commitment to transfer" by increasing the size of community college transfers each year for a total increase of 1,250 in transfer enrollment by 2011-12, according to UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez.

However, the UC has been forced to reduce the number of incoming freshman by thousands of students, Vasquez said, while CSU enrollment has dropped by 30,000, according to Fallis. As both CSU and UC try to meet transfer enrollment targets and find room for ever-increasing freshman classes, they repeatedly run up against the limitations of shrinking state aid.

Efficiently meeting enrollment targets is also challenging due to fluctuating state funding levels, leaving the universities to cope with a volatility in funding.

"We've been on what you could describe as peaks and valleys, or a roller coaster," said Fallis, describing how in recent years CSU started "cranking up" enrollment after encouragement from the state, only to "clamp down" after the state pulled back funding. "Continue that enough times and you start seeing the problem of long-term planning that happens."

UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said a similar instability in funding for the UC has made planning for enrollment targets difficult.

Ultimately, this inability to look further than from crisis to crisis may hinder California's higher education institutions most of all, Johnson said.

"Instead of having a policy consistent year to year, we have policies created because we budget for emergencies," Johnson said. "We not only lack consistency, but more troubling in some ways, we don't have a picture of what we want to be as a state ... If the state is going to meet the demands of the economy for highly educated workers, we need more students going to and graduating from college, and these budget cuts are moving us in the wrong direction."


Nina Brown covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]

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