INSIDE Chico State
0 February 28, 2002
Volume 32 Number 11
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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PROVOSTíS CORNER


Balancing Act: Aligning enrollment and resources

In one of my favorite Gary Larsen cartoons, an old, worried looking dog is on a high wire. He is riding a unicycle, juggling some balls, and balancing a spinning plate on the end of a stick on his nose. The caption says, “Suddenly Bob realized you can teach an old dog new tricks.” Managing enrollment at Chico has become a complex and sometimes daring art, and we are all learning new things as we seek to bring our enrollment and our resources into alignment.

This academic year, we will have enrolled almost 14,800 full-time equivalent students (FTES). This is more than we can handle easily, and these numbers also seriously strain the physical capacity of the campus. Many people have stepped forward to help our students. Faculty opened new sections, expanded existing ones, and offered special study courses. Staff spent time guiding students to make sure they made progress toward their degrees. We are proud of this commitment to the students, and still, we all agree we need to bring these numbers down and begin a process of very slow, stable growth. Over the next decade or two, we plan to add about 100 FTES each year, exclusive of our new Year-Round-Operations summer session, which will grow according to student need. As we grow, we want to add some new buildings, first a student services center, and then academic space. Whatever we do, campus growth cannot outpace our human and physical resources.

This year we were funded for 14,250 students, even though 14,800 showed up. We were able to secure some additional one-time money ($1.5 million) to help with the extra 550 students, but we were still not funded for about 300 FTES. Next year, our student numbers will, by design, drop substantially (4%) from this year’s unplanned high. The decision to bring down our FTES targets has two important implications: we will have less money in our budget next year, and, even before a contemplated reduction, we must find new ways to manage enrollment.

Because our targeted number will drop from this year’s high to 14,345, exclusive of summer, we will have less enrollment funding for 2002–2003. We also anticipate increases in utility costs and in insurance premiums, which will total $1 million more than we are now paying. Before we even begin to discuss potential budget reductions because of the shortfall in state revenue, we will start the year with about -$2 million revenue. It is imperative that we enroll no more students than we are funded to serve. How do we do that, and how will that differ from what we did before?

In the past, we have worked to increase enrollment from the lows it hit in the early 1990s, when the state experienced a severe and prolonged recession. Under the able guidance of Vice Provost Hannigan and his staff, we developed new recruiting strategies, expanded our efforts across the state, introduced new programs to connect potential students and their parents to the university, and phoned prospective students. We simultaneously put effort into recruiting high-achieving students who appreciate the unique qualities of Chico, an important goal of the university.

But how do we hit the number assigned to us by the Chancellor’s office? If we need to bring it down next year, why not just admit fewer students? This would seem like a sensible solution, but if we cut the numbers next year by admitting far fewer first-time students than in the past, in four or five years, we will have substantially fewer juniors and seniors. We cannot just cut the number of first-time freshmen without serious thought to the long-term implications of this decision. Maybe we can reduce other categories of students? Some have been suggested—undeclared graduate students; undergraduate transfer students who have not completed all of the work they need; students who are seeking double majors; and students who wish to transfer at midyear. There are good arguments for cutting or not cutting each of these categories of students.

In the past, we have never been faced with these puzzles. When we needed more students, we worked hard and recruited them. We also got new resources. But now we will shrink, and we will have less money, so we must allocate resources more wisely than ever before. We are now an impacted campus and are bound by trustee policy concerning whom we admit, and whom we do not. The requirement to provide openings to qualified students from our local area, for example, presents dual challenges.

For the last few years, the deans have worked hard to meet the enrollment targets that were set for the colleges by my office, and to help chairs and faculty meet the goals set for departments. We have discussed the enrollment goals of the university and what would happen when we got to the point that we could not admit everyone. We are now there. For the fall of 2002, we will turn away at least 1,000 qualified students.
Here are some of the things which are at stake. When a university shrinks, or grows slowly, it means that not all majors and departments can grow. Some might even decrease in size, so that others could grow. This necessitates a discussion about which majors should grow, and which categories (undergraduate or graduate, for example) should grow. We have studied the matter enough to know pretty well what it would mean to all other units in the university if engineering chose to grow its program in computer sciences, or agriculture sought to increase the size of its programs.

What we have not done is involve the faculty, chairs, and staff in this discussion. We must also involve departments and programs in discussions about the ways in which we will implement impaction in the university or at the department or program level. One model we will propose for managing enrollment is one in which departments establish the criteria, as they do at our sister campus, San Luis Obispo, which determine who will gain admittance to their program. Psychology, for instance, would need to decide what academically appropriate set of standards should be applied by Enrollment Management to help them shape their student body. Doing this for all units will be a tough job.

As we work to refine our enrollments, it becomes clear that growing or not growing a program has serious resource implications. Right now we cannot handle more students in recording arts, communication design, or graphics. If we decide we want to increase student numbers in these majors, we need to hire additional faculty and to build new laboratories and teaching facilities. It makes sense to allocate or reallocate resources to do this, but making such decisions must be an open process and must involve everyone affected by the decisions. The Academic Senate, working with Vice Provost Hannigan, will determine how to hold discussions with all of those affected by enrollment decisions and seek to achieve a consensus about the complex job of balancing resources and enrollment. In the process, we will all learn new things.

Scott G. McNall, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs

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