Fresh out of a Board of Trustees meeting where Gov. Jerry Brown warned the California State University (CSU) system against dwelling on increasing its number of students, CSU Chancellor Timothy White did exactly that Friday at a press conference for student media.
“Clearly there’s more demand for people to join the CSU as a student than there is capacity,” White said during his opening remarks. “It’s frustrating for me personally to know that there are people who, through no fault of their own, can’t get in our campuses.”
From the CSU’s Long Beach headquarters, the chancellor’s comments sounded familiar to those following Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong’s own goals in San Luis Obispo. By 2022, Armstrong aims to add between 4,000 and 5,000 students to Cal Poly’s student population.
Throughout Friday’s press conference, White echoed other ideas supported by Armstrong, including using public-private partnerships to enhance student opportunities, enrollment growth and additional classes.
But as lobbyer-in-chief for the CSU, White hovered on a dilemma Armstrong doesn’t always have to tackle head on: how to get money from Sacramento.
“At the end of the day, we have to be persuasive in Sacramento,” White said. “And it’s not about money for CSU, it’s money really to help these students and their families to become vibrant members of the California economy.”
But White will likely have a tough time being persuasive in the state capital as a battle looms for 2014-2015 dollars. Mandatory spending on prisons and firefighting will drain the state’s coffers more than usual, according to a CSU report, leaving higher education to fight for a smaller piece of the pie.
The chances of a CSU win in next year’s state budget didn’t look promising at a CSU Board of Trustees meeting this past week, either. Brown, who attended the Long Beach meeting, told the governing board it will face challenges persuading the state legislature to approve its $250 million funding proposal for 2014-2015. That request is roughly $110 million more than the legislature’s planned 2014-2015 budget for the CSU.
Under the Board of Trustee’s plan, much of the additional money would go toward admitting 22,000 additional students and adding 1,000 more classes. But Brown instead suggested catching up on deferred maintenance of aging buildings across the CSU before expanding the number of students it enrolls.
“If you take more people than you’re already serving, you’re going to expand the need for space, gas and electricity,” Brown said, according to the Associated Press. “It sounds like buildings need to be taken care of before you bring more students in.”
White conceded Friday that persuading lawmakers to give CSU everything the Board of Trustees wants will be difficult, but he continued to emphasize the importance of increasing the number of students in California higher education.
“I know we need more student enrollment,” he said. “If I don’t stand up for you, then who’s going to stand up for you? So I’m going to stand up and say, ‘Here’s the true need, Gov. Brown.’”
After addressing big-picture issues such as the budget, Obamacare and President Barack Obama’s plan to link college funding to a federal “affordability” ranking, White also took questions from student reporters at several of the university system’s 23 campuses, including Cal Poly.
Speaking on an issue that administrators at Cal Poly are already embracing, White encouraged campuses to create partnerships with private businesses to bolster what campuses can provide students. White said he consistently talks with private companies about ways they can work together, but he identified some of the challenges they come with.
“The risks are making sure we don’t let private enterprise override academic decision about the curriculum,” White said.
White promised these concerns would not escalate into a reality where businesses hold influence over what happens in the classroom or limit accessibility for lower-income students. Instead, he said private partnerships will help to “preserve the public nature,” of CSU campuses, a phrase Armstrong has used several times to describe the same goal.
Facilities, residence halls, research and creative opportunities and for-pay internships could all benefit from public-private partnerships, White said. The end result, he said, would not be to “make us exclusive and elite, but rather to make us accessible and affordable for the men and women of California who want to come to our campuses.”
Though the chancellor supported Armstrong’s points on increasing enrollment and working with private enterprise, he did deviate from Armstrong on the issue of graduation rates. While Cal Poly’s president said during his State of the University speech earlier this month that the university would have a “laser focus” on improving graduation rates, White de-emphasized the point in favor of granting a higher number of degrees.
“For me, the (graduation) rate question is second to the number of degrees we’re putting out,” White said. “What we don’t want to do is have an overemphasis on a four-year graduation rate, going up a certain direction, and then it forces us to turn our backs on part-time students or students who have kids.
“I want to make sure we measure what we value, and for me it’s completion,” he said.
Armstrong, in contrast, put a higher short-term priority on upping graduation rates in the State of the University speech. The first of his four strategic imperatives he listed was improving graduation rates, while increasing student enrollment didn’t make the list.
“Candidly, a laser focus on improving Cal Poly’s four-year graduation rate — and yes, I do mean four-year rate — would be our most effective response to the demands by legislators, parents and students to improve higher education’s accessibility, affordability and accountability,” Armstrong said.
In addition to helping Cal Poly’s reputation with parents and lawmakers, Armstrong said doubling the four-year graduation rate from 36 percent by 2022 would also help increase enrollment and reduce students’ cost of attending Cal Poly.
The original version of this post’s photo caption stated that CSU Chancellor Timothy White proposed a $250 million funding proposal for the academic year 2014-2015. The Board of Trustees is expected to propose this funding plan in November, and it will be for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.