Betting on the Wrong Horse
Paul Persons, Political Science
The California State University system has bet on a horse named Enrollment,
convinced that the legislature would appreciate the great work CSU employees
are doing to service more students and decide not to cut our budget substantially.
It does not seem likely that the Enrollment horse is going to cross the
finish line, and if it does, it will not be carrying any extra enrollment
The current budget crisis will pass, but as those who were present during
the last budget crisis know, Chico has yet to recover from that beating.
Déjà vu! We are again being asked to serve more students
with fewer funds, while maintaining academic quality. Larger class sizes
and the inability of faculty and staff to provide the level of student
faculty/staff contact necessary for student motivation and involvement
will result in lower educational quality. With few new hires, a decrease
in the number of faculty will result in fewer course offerings, and students
will find it difficult to enroll in the courses they need to complete
college in four years.
I continue to question the wisdom of taking more students at a time when
there will be fewer faculty, staff, and resources available to serve the
students. Simple math indicates that if you maintain or increase the number
of students while decreasing the number of faculty, the number of courses/sections
offered will decrease, and the number of students in each course on the
average will increase. Reducing the work force to save funds while increasing
production (number of students) and maintaining the same quality will
Chico’s Enrollment Management Committee and Academic Senate should
be fully consulted before enrollment decisions are made. It appears that
the university has already agreed to increase enrollments in the 2003–04
Academic Year to 14,490, with 300 FTES in the summer, for a total of 14,790.
The current Master Plan lists the enrollment cap at 14,000 FTES.
If higher education is the engine that powers the California economy,
now is not the time for the legislature to rein in the horse. Without
an educated and skilled workforce, California will not be positioned to
take advantage of the opportunities available when the recession ends.
The California Education Code states:
“The Legislature further intends that an undergraduate education
prepare students … to have the flexibility to adapt to changing
economic and social conditions, new workforce needs, and demands of a
multicultural society. It is also the intent of the Legislature that the
segments of higher education recognize that quality teaching is the core
ingredient of the undergraduate educational experience. The segments of
higher education are encouraged to improve the quality of undergraduate
education as a central priority of California’s public colleges
and universities.” (Cal Ed Code § 66050 (2003))
A recognized measure of the quality of education is the student faculty
ratio (SFR). In the 1980s, the SFR in the CSU averaged 18-2. Since the
1991–92 academic year, the SFR in the CSU has continued to rise.
Chico reported a SFR of 20-1 last year. Many departments on campus have
a SFR greater than 20-1, with the College of Business having a SFR of
29.7-1. With fewer faculty and more students, the SFR will continue to
increase, and the quality of education will decrease.
With more and more students in the classroom, teachers will not have the
option of interactive learning techniques. Written assignments and term
papers will give way to multiple choice exams, at a time when students
need more written communication skills and individualized assignments.
The educational experience a professor can provide in a small class is
quite different from the lecture given to a large class. Class presentations,
individualized assignments, and one-to-one interactions are simply not
feasible in a large class.
The California Department of Corrections has told the legislature that
if their budget is reduced they will accept fewer prisoners. Prison guards
are not willing to compromise safety to serve more prisoners. The CSU,
and especially residential campuses like Chico, should not be willing
to compromise educational quality and the ability of the faculty and staff
to do a good job to serve more students.
The first principle in the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in
Undergraduate Education,” compiled in a study supported by the American
Association of Higher Education, encourages student-faculty contact: “Frequent
student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor
in student motivation and involvement.”
Betting on the Enron horse did not work. Betting on the Enrollment horse
doesn’t look good. Perhaps insisting and requiring educational quality
is our best bet, even if it means fewer students have access to the CSU.
Paul Persons, Political Science