Transcript of Webcast: Guaranteed Regional Access Needed for State Universities


Hi, I’m Judy Heiman from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, and this is Steve Boilard.

And we recently issued a report titled Guaranteed Regional Access Needed for State Universities.

This is the latest in our series on “The Master Plan at 50,” which is available here on our website. This particular report was prepared with the help of Annabel Páez and Mark Whitaker.

California’s Master Plan for Higher Education assigned separate missions to each of the public higher education segments, and defined the eligibility rules for each.

UC was charged with serving a relatively small number of highly qualified high school graduates from around the state, while the community colleges were assigned to serve their local communities as local access institutions, open access institutions.

The state universities were charged with serving the top one-third of high school graduates. And although they were not specifically assigned a regional role, in practice they’ve largely assumed that middle ground of responding to regional education needs. And campuses have guaranteed access to qualified applicants from their local areas.

State budget cuts over the last few years have required the CSU campuses to manage their enrollment, and keep it in line with their resources. Some of the ways campuses have done that have weakened the local guarantee leaving some students without access to their local campus, even though they meet the Master Plan qualifications, and would previously have been guaranteed access to that campus.

At San Diego State University for example, local students had to compete with other students from across the state and had to meet a higher standard than the Master Plan defined.

In this report, we describe this chain of events and look at some of the policy implications of these changes.

We conclude that CSU’s regional role is an important part of the overall higher education system for the state. And we recommend that the legislature take steps to protect that role. Specifically, we recommend formalizing a regional role for CSU in statute, codify expectations for CSU eligibility, and directing the CSU to adjust its enrollment policies accordingly.

These steps would help to ensure that California’s system of higher education continues to meet the state’s needs through a differentiated, tripartite system of institutions, which is one of the hallmarks of the Master Plan success.

Judy : Steve, we’ve had a number of questions about some of our report’s key findings and recommendations. I guess, one of the main ones considers timing.

If the Master Plan never formally required the CSU to serve a regional role, why are we calling for that now?

Steve : It’s really because it hadn’t become an issue until more recently. For decades, there was adequate capacity at the campuses, most campuses, to accept all eligible applicants. And it’s really just more recently, with a surge in enrollment demand as well as the resource constraint brought on by the state’s budget crisis, this forced campuses to have to choose between local and out of area applicants.

Judy: Of course, we’ve heard from some campus officials that they should be able to select the best qualified applicants whether or not they are local.

Steve : Yes. That makes sense except that there’s a number of students who are place bound. They have family obligations, they have work obligations, they own a home, and they are unable to readily move to another part of state to attend a university. And so for them, we think it’s important that there be a local option and an ability to attend a local campus.

Judy : Some campus leaders argue that, if they are forced to admit students who just meet the minimum qualifications, that will bring down their graduation rates and other measures of success.

Steve: You know, we understand that argument that, and it makes sense from a campuses perspective that if you bring in better qualified students, your students will perform better, and you’ll have better graduation rates. Our concern is that it doesn’t do anything on a state wide basis. It simply collects the better students at some campus, and redirects the less prepared students to other campuses. And so, there’s no net benefit for the state.

Judy: There’s also been some confusion about how CSU can guarantee access to somewhere in the system while turning students away from the individual campuses.

Steve: And that’s really the crux of this whole issue about access. There is a number of ways that campuses try to reconcile this open-ended eligibility, you know guarantee to students, with a finite number of slots at a given campus. And so, ways that they’ve done that is by adjusting the application deadline, either earlier or later depending on if you want more or fewer students, there are pre-requisites that can be put in place for a transfer student coming on to campus, there are requirements you can have in place for a student applying on going through matriculation or counseling. So these are the ways that campuses kind of fine tune or adjust the number of applicants that are able to be admitted.

But there is a different category that has been used more historically by the University of California. And that is to simply redirect students from a campus to a different campus. To say the guarantee is a system wide eligibility guarantee, but we can redirect you elsewhere. And some students who get redirected, understandably wouldn’t be interested in that other campus. That’s a way to manage enrollment.

Cal State we feel, isn’t as amenable to that kind, it doesn’t work as well with that kind of enrollment management technique because we are really looking for them to serve a more regional guarantee. You can’t redirect them without doing harm to that.

And so they’ve come up with a policy that kind of tries to walk that line called ‘impaction’.

Judy: And impaction can get pretty complicated.

Steve: We have, we try to explain it in a report. We have heard a lot of questions about how it really works. The easiest way to think about it is really there’s two kinds of impactions. There’s campus impaction where, a given campus with a more enrollment demand than it can absorb can erect higher eligibility criteria, higher GPA or SAT requirements, but to apply that just to out of area students. So a local student with minimum system eligibility still can get in. But an out of area student would encounter these higher standards, and therefore fewer of them could come on campus, so it preserves the local guarantee.

The other kind of impaction is program impaction. So a given program like engineering and sociology could enact these higher standards, higher GPA or SAT requirements or other requirements on all students. There is no local guarantee for the program impaction.

Judy: So as more programs on a campus become impacted, then that local guarantee becomes less valuable.

Steve: Exactly. As a matter of fact, there have been a number of changes in recent years where campuses have more and more programs impacted. At this point, there’s actually four campuses that where all the programs are impacted. So a student can get onto to campus, but has no guarantee of access to a particular program with only minimum eligibility.

Judy: One final question. Several people have asked whether these difficult choices between admitting local students and non-local students could be avoided if the state could find more enrollments.

Steve: Yes. In theory it could. If we had enough resources to provide additional capacity at every campus, these tough choices would not be required. It’s a pretty unrealistic expectation at this point both because the state budget constraints are so severe, and there’s a number of other areas of the state government that are looking for additional resources as well.

We feel that a better or at least an alternate way to try and mitigate some of this problem is by resource allocation within the system. Even today with some campuses really constrained and having to turn away applicants, there are some campuses that seek additional applicants, they are having trouble meeting their enrollment targets. There are some programs that are undersubscribed that have a very low student-faculty ratio where classes are small. So if you can redirect resources where they are a bit more needed, away from places where they are underutilized, you can make better use of existing capacity. Another way to make better use of the existing capacity is, say during the summer where a number of facilities which are underutilized in many campuses.

So the answer you know we think, is not just restricting who gets into a particular campus, but better aligning the resources with where the need is.

Judy : Thank you Steve.

We hope this presentation has been helpful. The entire report is available on our website, and we’d be happy to answer your questions by telephone or e-mail.