Other than rising student fees and shrinking job pools, most students may not feel many effects of California’s nearly $20 billion deficit. But that does not mean the budget crisis isn’t affecting Cal Poly.

Enrollment is expected to shrink to 4,150 new students this fall, a drop of 1,131 students from the 2007 total. This admissions move is a preemptive counter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget cuts for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The governor’s proposal would provide $386.1 million less than the California State University system request of $3.2 billion submitted in October 2007, in line with across-the-board 10-percent cuts for state allocations.

Of that total, $312.9 million would be an outright budget cut while the remaining $73.2 million would result from the lack of funds to offset the need for an increase in student fees.

The proposed shortfall comes at a time when the CSU system is already struggling to cope with $522 million cuts from earlier in the decade, of which Cal Poly took cuts of $22.9 million.

Those cuts resulted in staff reductions and positions being eliminated, said Larry Kelley, vice president for administration and finance.

In May 2004, the CSU and UC systems entered a compact with the governor that provided baseline funding for the next six years. The budget proposal is out of accord with the compact, Cal Poly President Warren Baker said.

All 23 CSU campuses have held forums over the last month in hopes of swaying legislators to reject the governor’s proposal. With the dire predictions for the economy and no end in sight, Baker characterizes the chances as “slim.”

Schwarzenegger will release his “May Revise” next month. After the revision, the budget is sent to the state legislature where, ideally, it will be in place by July 1 for the beginning of the fiscal year. However, it’s almost always approved in the next couple of months.

“The schedule for the budget doesn’t coincide with higher education’s timetable,” Baker said at an ASI Board of Directors meeting last week. “For example, Cal Poly accepts students in February but doesn’t know what our budget will be, sometimes until September. That can create problems.”

The shortfall for Cal Poly if the current proposal went forward would be $9.9 million or $7.3 million if a student fee increase was implemented. President Baker was confident Cal Poly would be able to deal with the budget next year.

“The scarier thing is that this is going to be a multi-year problem; we can get by one year, in terms of carryover and other things we can do, represented in one-year funding, money that’s available only once,” he said. “To go into multiple years of a recession or continued significant structural deficits in the budget will add up to serious consequences for the higher education system.”

The last time California faced a serious recession in 1994-95, CSU campuses saw enrollment drop across the system and the student fees increased by 40 percent. Class size and availability would also be at risk, but the potential lack of access seems to worry administrators most.

“Long-term effects of any budget cuts means we will bring in fewer students, in turn we will have less graduates, and we won’t be a solution to the growing dilemma in California,” said James Maraviglia, assistant vice president of admissions, recruitment and financial aid.

“We also know that those students that have been traditionally underrepresented in higher education will have even less of a chance to step up and be a part of the system,” Kelley said.

Lack of access was evident in the application process this year. The average GPA and SAT scores for accepted applicants across all colleges rose .07 to 3.87 and 30 points to 1267, respectively. Those numbers may seem small, but in a pool of 37, 783 applicants, they make a difference.

The College of Engineering alone turned away 400 hopeful students with a 4.0 GPA for admission this fall.

“The governor himself said California is in desperate need of 20,000 civil engineers, yet here is an institution with demand for engineers, turning those students away at the same time the governor is crying out,” Maraviglia said.

“There is contradiction occurring in the budget,” Baker said. “And it does not bode well for the workforce.”

“It’s self-defeating the needs of the citizenship,” Maraviglia added.

In Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposal, higher education would receive 11.6 percent of state allocations compared to 10.2 percent for corrections and rehabilitation. But the money going to higher education includes student fees.

“Actual state funding is less today than what goes into supporting prisons and incarceration,” President Baker says.

In 2003-04, higher education received 14.2 percent of the state’s budget.

“At the same time they are converting a facility in Paso Robles to a youth prison for 1000 inmates, Cal Poly is having to turn away more than 1,000 students,” Kelley said. “Which group is more important for the state’s future?”

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