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High schools, community colleges react to CSU enrollment freeze

March 20, 2012 |  1:51 pm

Cal State Northridge graduation

The announcement by California State University officials of a plan to freeze enrollment next spring at most campuses and to wait-list all applicants the following fall has left many high school and community college counselors grasping for answers on how to advise their students.

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 a proposed tax initiative on the November ballot passes.

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.

At Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, about a third of last year’s graduates who went on to some form of higher education went to a Cal State school, said Sylvia Womack, the school’s college and career center supervisor.

With the college application process is stressful enough as it is, the added uncertainty at the Cal State level will drive students to private or out-of-state schools, she said.

“This will make them think, ‘Why should I wait for Cal State Long Beach when Whittier College will take me in right now?'” Womack said.

Shery Bacon, a counselor at Hamilton High School, said that in last year’s graduating class about 44% of graduates went on to four-year schools, many at nearby CSU campuses.

“It would continue to eliminate opportunities for our students,” she said. “As a counselor, I already feel concerned and hypocritical when referring students to higher education when I know those seats are dwindling and now being put on hold.”

Dan Nannini, the transfer center director at Santa Monica College, said that he too expects students to begin choosing to transfer into private or out-of-state schools.  Last year, the school sent over 1,000 students to Cal State schools.

The enrollment freeze will also pause the academic careers of some students who are unable to foot the bill for a private or out-of-state school, Nannini said.

“The kid who is not of means or can’t get enough to pay, they have to wait around until someone opens up their door,” he said.

Community college students are reacting strongly to the plans. As many as 25,000 transfer and freshmen  students could be turned away in fall 2013 if the tax measure fails, officials said.

"The hold on enrollment is unfair to thousands of students who now must wait on the outcome of an election to find out if they will be attending a CSU. We cannot continue to determine our economic future on election cycles. California must reinvest in education," said George Escutia Jr., a student at Norco College in Riverside County who also chairs the government relations committee of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, in a statement.

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 a few hundred students transferring from community colleges for the spring 2013 semester.

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.


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Photo: Tung Vu from Rosemead has a overall view of the stage as he graduated with a master's in public administration during the Cal State University Northridge commencement ceremonies for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in May. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times