Enrollment decline may force budget cuts on underperforming Cal State campuses

CSU East Bay Campus
Students walk across the campus of the California State University East Bay campus. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

The California State University system is notifying campuses: enroll more students or lose money.

It’s a stunning reversal of fortunes for the 23 campuses of the nation’s largest public university system, which have collectively lost 27,000 students in two years, part of a nationwide wave of declining college enrollments.

In the fall of 2020, Cal State posted the highest enrollment in its history, the culmination of nearly relentless growth in its six decades as a unified system. Now, is home to 25,000 fewer students what the state says it should educate.

That’s despite an agreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom that the system continues to attract more Californians to its campuses, graduating them at higher rates. in exchange for increased state funding.

“California State University faces an unprecedented moment in its 62-year history,” said Steve Relyeaexecutive vice chancellor and financial director of the system, at this week’s meeting of the Board of Directors.

Formula for budget cuts

Seven campuses in particular—CSU Channel Islands, Chico State, Cal State East Bay, Cal Poly Humboldt, Cal Maritime, Sonoma State, and San Francisco State—are missing their state enrollment targets by 10% or more. They’re not paying a financial price for that, even as several other campuses are exceeding their enrollment goals by more than 10%.

So a new plan: Any campus that misses its enrollment goal by 10% or more will permanently lose up to 5% of state enrollment funds, which will then be sent to campuses that exceed their enrollment goals. . This won’t take effect until 2024-25 at the earliest, giving campuses time to fill their enrollment gaps.

Over the next two years, any campus that does not meet its targets by 7% and then 5%, respectively, would lose 5% of state funding for student enrollment each year.

The plan is not set in stone like a traditional financing formula. System leaders said its details may change.

“These actions are really intended to incentivize further upward movement of campuses toward and above their enrollment goal,” Nathan Evans saidan associate vice chancellor and chief of staff who helps oversee the system’s academic mission for students and faculty.

If this plan went into effect today, the seven campuses that don’t meet targets would lose a combined $38 million to other campuses, enough to educate 4,500 full-time students, in the first year of the plan. Campuses with deeper enrollment holes would see steeper cuts.

Despite the dollar shuffle, those seven under-enrolled campuses “will receive funding at a higher level than their enrollment would justify” in the plan’s first year, Jolene Koester said, acting chancellor of the Cal State system. He made those comments in response to concerns from some trustees that the plan deprives money from campuses already suffering from more students.

But unless those campuses curb their enrollment losses, campuses will lose up to 15% of their enrollment funds over the duration of this three-year plan, system spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp explained in an email. These “budget reallocations” would be permanent, he added, but campuses could get their money back if their enrollment picks up.

Sanctioned campuses would also lose additional enrollment growth dollars that are part of Newsom’s deal with the system. That money – part of the more than $200 million in new state funding Newsom pledges annually — would only go to campuses that meet or exceed their enrollment goals.

All of this additional money will help campuses meet their goals of hiring more educators and adding more classes.

The Cal State system has no history of diverting money like this, koester said“But we are in a position where we have to take the risk of acting to fund enrollment where it can take place.”

factors behind enrollment slide

Multiple factors explain Cal State’s enrollment decline. Among them It’s the collapse of California community college enrollment, whose transfer students typically make up one-third of Cal State’s total student body. As a result, Cal State now enrolls the equivalent of 11,000 fewer new full-time transfer students than it did in fall 2020.

The biggest loss, however, is among existing students. Between the fall of 2020 and the fall of 2022, the equivalent of approximately 24,000 currently enrolled college students disappeared from the Cal State system.

Part of the reason is that students on average are collectively taking fewer classes. In the last two years, students began taking .4 fewer units per quarter. That may seem small, but with more than 400,000 students, that fraction of a change means the equivalent of 8,000 fewer full-time students enrolled.

Another enrollment issue is the number of students returning for another year of study. Just 81.7% of freshmen who started last year returned for a sophomore year, the lowest freshman retention rate at Cal State since 2008, and well below 85.5% of students freshmen who began their education in 2019.

There are silver linings to the system: About 2,000 more new freshmen enrolled in fall 2022 than in fall 2020.

But even recent high school graduates may no longer be a source of continued enrollment growth for Cal State as the The state’s K-12 population is expected to collapse by more than 500,000 students between 2020 and 2030.

Workers past their high school years or adults with some education but no college degree will increasingly need to become a major source of enrollment, and by extension tuition revenue, for the system, some trustees said.

“The demand for access is no longer just from the (typical) college-age population,” said Julia Lopez, trustee. “The demand for access is in the non-traditional older student.”

Efforts to encourage re-registration

At the end of 2021, the system began to attract students who dropped out of school during the pandemic to return to campus. System leaders said those efforts continue.

They also described a new partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest K-12 public school system in the state, to work with high schools that send few students to college. This spring, Cal State will unveil a dual admissions program for high school students who want to attend a community college first but still maintain guaranteed admission to the Cal State system. Cal State leaders are also hiring an enrollment marketing company, Virginia-based SimpsonScarborough, to help attract more students. The Cal State Chancellor’s Office has not finalized the contract, so financial details of that deal are not available, Uhlenkamp wrote.

Some campus presidents say the expansion of student housing will also attract more students. San Francisco State, among the seven campuses with the most serious enrollment problems, is adding 750 new beds that will be rented to low-income students at a reduced rate. the project is part of massive $4 billion infusion planned by state to build more affordable housing for college students.

In the past few years, 2,000 students have appeared on waiting lists for on-campus housing,” San Francisco State President Lynn Mahoney said at Wednesday’s administrators’ meeting.

“My enrollment will improve dramatically if I can promise freshmen and sophomores on-campus housing,” he said.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters.

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