President's Letter to the Campus Community
Dear CSULB Campus Community:
Last Thursday a number of us traveled north to Oakland for a final round of interviews with the WASC accreditation team. The meeting went extremely well and the oversight team was very complimentary of our campus and everything that our faculty, staff and students have accomplished over the last decade. Even though we have not officially received a final result from WASC, I would like to thank our students, faculty and staff for the time, energy, and sacrifice to make this three–year comprehensive effort a success.
As for our budget update, the California state legislature is currently debating the merits of the Governor's proposed budget for 2011–2012. We are all aware of the difficult choices that need to be made and know that the state has exhausted most of the potential fiscal options. Unfortunately, this proposed budget includes a $1.4 billion reduction for all public higher education including a $500 million reduction for the CSU (18 percent). Furthermore, increases in fixed or mandatory costs primarily related to CSU-paid health care premiums add an additional $50 million needed by the CSU (CSULB's share is $1.5 million) for the 2011–2012 academic year.
Despite the severity of this proposed budget, of even greater concern is the outcome of a possible June referendum to extend three existing state taxes. If the legislature approves the referendum making the June ballot measure possible, we will have to wait to see if the taxes will be extended. If they are not extended, we will face even more severe budget reductions which will force us to place all possible institutional options on the table.
At the federal level we will be lobbying over the next couple of weeks/months to protect the historic increases that have been made to federal student aid. These have materialized in the form of substantial increases in Pell Grants, tuition tax credits and deductions, and student loan interest decreases to some of their lowest levels since the mid–1970s. Also, assuming the June tax referendum passes, we are confident that the state student aid grants in the form of Cal Grant A and B funding and the CSU State University Grant (SUG) will be protected in the 2011–2012 academic year. In fact, during the last two years thanks to the passage of numerous federal acts and statewide increases in student aid, CSULB students have seen historic enhancements in grant aid. Overall, despite a 4,000 student decrease in enrollment due to a previous state budgetary reduction two years ago, student grant aid to CSULB students increased by $39 million from $84 million to $123 million. This represents the largest two–year increase in student grant aid in the 62-year history of our university.
As for student fees at the CSU, it is important to differentiate CSU tuition and fees from campus-based fees. Most people are unaware that CSU campuses do not charge the same fees. Despite the fact that the CSU is the most affordable and lowest cost university system in the nation, campus–based fees vary considerably. CSULB campus-based student fees however, have been among the lowest in the CSU annually. Currently, CSULB charges $370 less than the average CSU and ranks 21st lowest in total student tuition and fees among the 23 universities in the system. CSULB also recently was ranked by Kiplinger's Magazine as the nation's best public university for ensuring that its students graduate with the least amount of student loan debt when compared to the other top 100 public university values in the nation.
Having said this, I do not believe that there is ever a good time to raise student fees. However, as we have seen our state appropriation reliance decline from 42 percent to 26 percent over the last three years, we are faced with the elimination of many essential academic and student service programs that have aided the substantial improvement in our graduate rates for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition to the numerous academic and student service programs facing elimination are other important commitments to many first-year academic/student support programs, student life contributions through ASI, and student athletics which continue to clearly demonstrate comparative efficiency and success on behalf of all students, alumni, and friends of the university.
For the last two years we have received consultative advice from multiple sources, beginning with the Beach Legacy Referendum which sought to increase a campus-based fee of nearly $100 per semester to aid our intercollegiate athletic program. The students voted not to accept this fee two years ago and the Student Fee Advisory Committee then recommended implementing a smaller fee to help athletics decrease their reliance on ASI funding and Instructionally-Related Activities (IRA) funds. Since these advisory recommendations were made, we have received additional requests from the Deans Council and the Resource Planning Process (RPP) Task Force which represents faculty, staff and students, to move forward with an increased fee but to ensure that it is able to reach far beyond athletics to protect many academic and student service programs. More recently, during our interview with the WASC Commission in Oakland, we were asked how CSULB plans to maintain our nationally recognized graduation rate successes. We responded by stating that we remain committed to being ranked among the nation's most affordable universities, although we must also provide the type of academic and student service programs necessary for students to succeed and graduate.
Therefore, based on the recommendations that I have received and the fact that we have had to endure the worst state budgetary reductions in our history, beginning this summer and next fall we will implement a Student Excellence Fund which is an increase to an already existing campus-based fee. This "Category II" fee increase is designed to provide essential funding to multiple academic, student, and athletic service programs that are in jeopardy of being eliminated due to current budgetary conditions. More specifically, the Student Excellence Fund will provide $94 per semester from students to support many programs initiated as part of our Highly Valued Degree Initiative (CSULB's graduation initiative) and First Year Academic/Student support programs like University 100, the Beach Learning Community, and other specially targeted programs. The fund will also support enhanced and specialized academic advising, a reduction in class sizes in high dropout courses, additional courses/sections in areas identified as essential for timely degree completion, and many more programmatic areas. It will also provide more stable funding for intercollegiate athletics making available nearly $500,000 annually for Associated Students Incorporated and $500,000 for Instructionally-Related Activities to enable more widespread fiscal support to numerous faculty/student academic and student support programs.
Additionally, these resources will assist campus programming in our Multicultural Center and various Student Centers which will work more collaboratively on programs in the future, numerous campuswide sustainability initiatives like UPASS, the Student Health Center, and many student success initiatives sponsored by Student Services. Unfortunately, without the new Student Excellence Fund many of these very important and successful programs will have to be eliminated in the 2011-2012 academic year.
Overall, the Student Excellence Fund of $94 per semester which is an increase in an existing campus-based mandatory fee category will move CSULB from 21st lowest in the CSU to 16th lowest in total student tuition and fees, assuming that other CSU campuses do not make any further adjustments to their fees. To ensure that these resources will be used effectively, a student advisory group will be appointed in collaboration with ASI to review and advise the administration based on the results of the multiple programs being funded by the Student Excellence Fund.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no good time to raise student fees. However, there is no good time to prevent students from having the multiple educational opportunities necessary to graduate in a timely manner. During the last comparable budget reductions in the early 1990s, CSULB's students ultimately paid a very difficult price. In the late 1990s we experienced a graduation rate in the low 20th percentile. Today, times have changed. We have a moral and economic obligation to make sure our students graduate in a timely manner. We have a great public university that is a national model in affordability, public impact, efficiency, teaching, applied research and learning. With your help we can continue to demonstrate that quality higher education is both an individual and societal benefit critical to the future economic well-being of California and the nation.
Thank you and Go Beach!
F. King Alexander