By Carla Rivera
Times Staff Writer
Facing uncertain budget prospects, California State University officials announced plans to freeze enrollment next spring at most campuses and to wait-list all applicants the following fall pending the outcome of a proposed tax initiative on the November ballot.
The university is moving to reduce enrollment to deal with $750 million in funding cuts already made in the 2011-12 fiscal year and position itself for at least an additional $200-million cut next year if the tax proposal fails.
The move is a high-stakes gambit that could deny tens of thousands of students access to the state's largest public university system; it also pressures voters to support the tax increase. That proposal, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is intended to avoid so-called trigger cuts that will dramatically affect the state's public colleges and universities.
The majority of Cal State's 23 campuses won't be accepting any new students under the plan. But eight campuses — Channel Islands, Chico, East Bay, Fullerton, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Bernardino and Sonoma — will accept only a few hundred students transferring from community colleges for the spring 2013 semester.
Typically, Cal State's campuses receive 70,000 applications in the spring and 16,000 students enroll.
In fall 2012, none of the campuses will make early admissions decisions, and all applicants — including prospective freshmen — will be warned that admittance is contingent on the outcome of the tax measure. Enrollment at individual campuses for fall 2013 will depend on funding and will probably be more restrictive.
Out-of-state students, who represent only about 3% to 4% of the system's total, will probably not be affected because their higher tuition covers the cost of instruction, officials said.
Fall applications typically number about 700,000, with 90,000 of those eventually enrolling.
The university aims to reduce overall enrollment by about 3% if trigger cuts are ordered, with 20,000 to 25,000 eligible students turned away in fall 2013, Robert Turnage, Cal State assistant vice chancellor for budget, said during a telephone briefing with reporters Monday.
"We need to keep some balance between the number of students we're enrolling and serving and the resources we have," Turnage said. "If we let everyone in who is eligible, the quality of services that students get and the quality of programs for everyone plunges."
The plan will be presented to the Board of Trustees at a meeting in Long Beach on Tuesday. Chancellor Charles Reed has the authority to shrink enrollment without approval from the board.
The alternative to such steep measures would be to further increase tuition, a strategy for which Cal State has come under scathing criticism. Tuition has increased six years in a row, including a 9% hike this fall that will raise the annual rate for undergraduates to $5,970, not including housing, campus-based fees, books and other costs that can top more than $25,000.
"Nobody seems to like fee increases," Turnage said. "But it comes down to either increasing revenue or cutting spending. Part of what we need to educate the board about is what cutting $200 million entails."
Education experts said the news from Cal State was disappointing but not unexpected.
"Based on the devastating cuts Cal State has had to take, this was only a matter of time in coming," said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity. "It's unfortunate and it's unfair to students who are not going to have an equal shot at getting into and going to college at one of California's public universities. It's also backward for the state. We are on track to have a generation less educated than we are, and this action doesn't help the case."
Cal State's preemptive move is in contrast to the University of California, which has no specific plans to cut overall enrollment at its 10 campuses next year, said spokeswoman Dianne Klein. But if the tax measure fails in November and no other revenue sources emerge, reducing enrollment is among several options that might be considered for fall 2013, she said.
The enrollment changes will place even more of a burden on students, particularly those who plan to transfer from community colleges. Many of them have been unable to graduate or transfer because of course reductions, said Kevin Feliciano, a student at Ohlone College in Fremont who is president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges
"With the budget cuts at the community colleges resulting in the reduction of course sections, students who had to stay an extra semester or quarter who were hoping for spring 2013 admissions to a CSU will now need to wait an extra term," Feliciano said. "The students have nowhere to go."
Besides enrollment, Cal State trustees will grapple with another issue Tuesday as they consider awarding 10% pay hikes to incoming presidents at the Fullerton and East Bay campuses. The annual salary for incoming Fullerton President Mildred Garcia is recommended at $324,500 — 10% more than her predecessor, Milton Gordon, who made $295,000. Garcia also earned $295,000 as president of Cal State Dominguez Hills.
President Leroy Morishita's recommended salary at Cal State East Bay is $303,660 — 10% more than predecessor Mohammad Qayoumi — plus an additional $60,000 for housing. Morishita had been earning $276,055 as interim president at the campus.
Garcia and Morishita would also receive a $12,000-per-year car allowance and other benefits.
The pay hikes are in line with a policy adopted in January to cap the pay of executives at 10% above that of their predecessor, with a limit of $325,000 in public funds. The move was designed to deflect scrutiny of presidential compensation after trustees approved an annual salary of $400,000 — $350,000 in general funds and $50,000 from a campus foundation — for Elliot Hirshman, the new president of San Diego State, at the same meeting last July at which tuition was increased by 12%. The salary was $100,000 more than what Hirshman's predecessor earned and prompted several lawmakers to propose legislation that would limit pay increases.