INSIDE Chico State
0 December 9, 1999
Volume 30 Number 10
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Year Round on the Horizon?

President Manuel Esteban
President Manuel Esteban

 

One of the questions faculty and staff ask me is whether we will be required to move to Year Round Operations, or YRO, and, if so, how soon.

Chancellor Reed is on record as saying that the CSU ought to operate year round. Many legislators echo him. The public seems to support this notion as well.

The idea of running our institutions year round is not new. It has taken on a sense of urgency, however. According to demographic experts, California is facing what is referred to as Tidal Wave II, the result of the second Baby Boom. Between 200,000 and 400,000 additional students will seek entrance to a four-year university in California. Even if the CSU were to receive only 100,000 of these over the next two decades, and this is a conservative estimate, the CSU does not have the capacity at present to absorb this new wave of students. We have neither the human nor the physical resources to provide access for all qualified students. And we are not likely to get resources for new buildings.

This leaves us with a dilemma. How can we remain accessible to all qualified students? This is where Year Round Operation comes in. Critics of higher education have long maintained that we make poor use of our facilities, using them for seven or eight months out of the year. Those who favor year round operations argue that if we added summer programs, positive outcomes would happen: (1) enrolled students would make faster progress toward graduation, and (2) we would be able to accommodate far more students than we do now, thus alleviating the problems created by Tidal Wave II.

In many ways, we have been doing YRO for years. The difference between what is being proposed and what we presently do is in the financing. At this point, summer sessions are not subsidized by the state. They are offered through Extension Services, and students pay the full cost of their education. If we were to move to state-subsidized summer sessions, students would pay the same cost as they do for the regular academic year. Four campuses -- Pomona, Hayward, SLO, and CSULA -- already offer a state-subsidized summer program; Humboldt State University is beginning a year round operation this year. For the 1999-2000 academic year, the state provided $2 million to allow some campuses, mostly urban, to try out year-round operation pilot projects.

Provost McNall has put together a small task force to study the possibility of operating year round. With this in mind, we conducted a survey of a representative group of students.

Of those surveyed, 51 percent reported spending the summer of 1998 in Chico. Seventy percent indicated that they were "very interested" or "somewhat interested" in summer session if subsidized by the state. Clearly, interest goes up as prices go down. However, we need to be careful about what the 70 percent actually means. It does not mean that 70 percent (or say 10,500) of our students will enroll if we offer state-supported summer session. There are a number of factors that influence student interest, among them, availability of financial aid and course offerings. To complicate this equation, a good number of students indicated that lack of work opportunities, the need for a break from school, the summer heat in Chico, and the lack of financial aid would possibly keep them from attending classes during the summer.

Obviously, in order to know exactly what courses/programs to offer, we would conduct a more systematic and complete survey.

From a campus perspective, there are other issues we would need to address. Most of the maintenance and major repairs and construction projects on campus are done during the summer months. The same is true for the residence halls. Clearly, if we operated year-round, these projects would take place simultaneously with our courses, and disruptions would occur. Faculty, staff, and administrators would need to stagger their vacations. We would also need to hire additional faculty. We would probably need to offer just selected programs. Faculty would have the option of teaching any two of the three "semesters." And we would need to comply with all aspects of the MOU. One advantage of the summer session is that it offers students considerable flexibility. Courses could conceivably last two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, as long as they meet the required number of hours.

I believe that year round operation is probably more likely to occur on urban rather than rural campuses. Given that an overwhelming percentage of our students are "imported," I cannot imagine that we would ever have sufficient student demand to offer a full-fledged summer program. Quite conceivably, many of our students would take advantage of year-round operation at the campus closest to their home.

Although year-round operation has become a very popular notion, its time may not yet have come at CSU, Chico. This is not an inexpensive proposition. The state would need to fund the CSU by approximately one third more than it does now, and this could easily run into the hundreds of millions. The state may not have the resources or the will to invest so heavily in higher education when it has so many other societal pressures. -- Manuel A. Esteban

 

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