CalState system considers enrollment cap

The California State University system for the first time is proposing to turn away qualified students because of a worsening state budget crisis.

As part of a plan to slash its 450,000 enrollment by 10,000 students in 2009-10, the 23-campus system, the nation's largest, will push up application deadlines and raise the academic bar for freshman at its most popular campuses, Chancellor Charles B. Reed said Monday.

The system has never tried this type of enrollment cap, and Cal State officials said they cannot be sure how it would work. Sophomore transfers and out-of-state and international students will be squeezed, and California high school graduates probably will bear the brunt of the downsizing, officials said. The system typically admits 45,000 to 50,000 freshmen each year; if even half the reductions land on them, it would mean a 10 percent drop in first-year admissions.

"These are going to be kids who have done everything they're supposed to do and told year after year they'll have this opportunity," said Kathy Rapkin, chair of the counseling department at Arcadia High School and past president and Southern California regional representative for the California Association of School Counselors.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger convened a special session of the Legislature this month to deal with a budget shortfall that could swell to $24 billion by mid-2010.

Reed said the Cal State system anticipates $97 million in mid-year budget cuts and further reductions for 2009-2010. His enrollment plan comes as demand for Cal State admission soars; applications are up 10 percent from the same time a year ago, officials said.

Reed said he would consult with Cal State's Board of Trustees at their meeting Wednesday, but the chancellor said he already had the authority to impose the enrollment restrictions and that he expected to act shortly.

"This is something California State University has never done," he said in a conference call with reporters.

Cal State is not the only higher education institution reporting financially driven enrollment issues. The University of California said it might have to limit admission to its most popular campuses and send more students to those with extra space, typically Riverside and Merced. At the state's community colleges, enrollment probably won't be limited but students' access to classes might be, officials said.

"We won't be able to offer them the classes they need," said Diane Woodruff, chancellor of the California Community Colleges.

She predicted that the lack of classes could drive away the equivalent of 250,000 students; 2.7 million are now enrolled in that system.

The basic requirements for admission to Cal State are high school graduation, completion of college prep course work and a B average. Students with a C average or above can get in with good SAT or ACT test scores.

For several years, a number of Cal State's sought-after campuses have cut off some or all applications in the fall, but the official deadline was in the spring, and some colleges accepted eligible applicants up to and including the first day of classes.

This year the cutoff for many campuses is Nov. 30, and all colleges will stop taking applications by March 1. San Francisco State has set a Dec. 10 deadline.

Campuses including Sonoma, Channel Islands, Northridge, Chico, San Jose, San Marcos and San Francisco will continue to take all fully qualified students from their own communities. But students from other parts of California might have to show higher grade point averages and test scores to make the cut at these and other campuses, officials said.

San Diego State, Long Beach, Fullerton, Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the most popular campuses, have imposed similar academic restrictions for several years.

Lourdes Garcia-Meza, a counselor at Kennedy High School in the San Fernando Valley, said low- and middle-income minority students could be hit hard.

"These are good students, and they worked really hard to make it at Cal State Northridge and Cal State L.A.," she said. "It's going to be heart-breaking."

Cal State officials said the cap was a better alternative than increasing class size or dropping course sections, as they did during an economic downturn in the early 1990s. Many students could not find the classes they wanted and dropped out, bringing enrollment figures down.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell urged the Legislature to raise enough revenue to provide higher education to all eligible students.

"Providing access to higher education for all qualified students is key to strengthening our economy in the future," O'Connell said in a statement.

Staff writer Larry Gordon contributed to this report.

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