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Budget Cuts Force SDSU Admission Policy Changes


In response to state budget cuts to higher education, SDSU is changing its admission policy. We'll talk with SDSU President Stephen Weber about those changes.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The reality of California state budget cuts to higher education has hit home with a vengeance recently. San Diego State University has announced it’s changing its admissions policy for local students applying for freshman enrollment in 2010. Campuses throughout the California State University system have been ordered to reduce their student enrollment but it’s been left up to individual campuses to figure out how. The way SDSU has decided to reduce costs and its student population has created a furor among local educators. The San Diego Unified School Board has asked San Diego State to reconsider the new policy. For their part, San Diego State officials say much of the controversy stems from misinformation about the changes, so joining me now to explain the change in admissions policy and the reasons behind it is my guest Dr. Stephen Weber, president of San Diego State University. Dr. Weber, welcome.

DR. STEPHEN WEBER (President, San Diego State University): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now before we begin to explain the changes in the admission policy perhaps you can tell us why the policy was changed in the first place.

DR. WEBER: The – As you know, the budget of the State of California is in disarray. I won’t go into all of the aspects of that but for San Diego State, last year we had a net loss of $12 million and this year we have a net loss, after tuition increases, of $35 million. So we’ve had our funding reduced by $47 million in two years.

CAVANAUGH: So, just so everyone listening understands, perhaps you could start by telling us what the policy was last year for qualified graduates in San Diego State’s in-service area. What was last year’s policy?

DR. WEBER: In the past, for the last eleven years, basically, we have had more applications than we could accommodate at San Diego State. We’re now number two in the whole country in terms of undergraduate applications. But what we said was if you were a local student, and local means south of Route 56 or Imperial County that’s our, what we call, service area, then you could come in with a minimum score set by the State of California, which is a 2900 score on what’s called the Freshman Eligibility Index, but if you were outside that service area then you had to come in – then you had to compete for the slots and the scores, typically, for outside the service area were about 3900.

CAVANAUGH: Now what I’ve read is that the term that’s been used is that qualified students in the area south of 56 and Imperial County were guaranteed admission to SDSU. Was that how you would characterize it?

DR. WEBER: Well, I don’t think it’s worth quibbling about.


DR. WEBER: People thought they were guaranteed that and, in point of fact, operationally if you met that score of 2900, and then there were other things, if you had had the proper A through G courses and a range of things like that and you lived within our service area, you could come to San Diego State. Now what’s changed is the CSU then, as a system faced with a half a billion dollars in cuts, is in the process of reducing its enrollment by 40,000 students because we don’t want to enroll students that we can’t serve. We don’t want them to come when we can’t give them classes and services. So our share of that cut at San Diego State is 4618 students to be taken over two years. We’ve began the reduction this year so this fall we have approximately 1850 fewer students than we had last year, and next fall we’ll have an additional 2750 fewer students.

CAVANAUGH: So what happens now when a qualified freshman from your service area applies for freshmen enrollment in 2010? What’s the difference now?

DR. WEBER: The difference now is we can no longer assure that all local students who are qualified will be able to come to San Diego State. That’s a very big and consequential difference and a lot of people are rightly concerned about it. It’s nothing – As educators, it’s nothing that we enjoy either but what will happen is that now, as in the past, students will compete for these slots but we will give a large preference to the local students. So, for example, if it—and this is only hypothetical because we don’t have our applications yet—but if the cutoff to get in would be a 3900 cutoff, then we’ll give extra points to the local students. And then the natural question is how many extra points. We can’t know that until we know the applicant pool and what’s needed but what we’ll do is we’ll try to preserve the historic ratio of local applicants—freshmen, I’m talking about now—to non-local. So, historically, about 40% of our freshmen have come from that service area of south of 56 and Imperial County. So we will give enough extra points to local students to preserve that historic ratio which has held for the last eleven years.

CAVANAUGH: Now the historic ratio is actually sort of an average of the number of…

DR. WEBER: Exactly that, yes.

CAVANAUGH: …of kids who have come from the service area and been accepted to San Diego State. Last freshmen pool, I read, was actually 54% of the freshmen pool were from the in-service area, right here, local kids.

DR. WEBER: That’s correct. It has been below 30% sometimes and above 50% other times. But what we’ve tried to do is say rather than pick a convenient number, we’ve been managing these enrollments for eleven years so we took the average of the eleven years, which is actually 37%. We’ve set as our goal 40% will, you know – We have a high degree of confidence that we can meet that goal because it’ll be a function of how many extra points we need to give to local students.

CAVANAUGH: We’re going to have to take a break shortly and I wanted – I want to ask you when we come back why San Diego State decided to reduce the student population in this particular manner. But I want to talk just briefly that – about this hearing that was held last night at Hoover High. Assemblyman Marty Block held the hearing, and one of the questions raised was why community groups were not consulted before this change was made. Now were community groups consulted? And if not, why not?

DR. WEBER: Well, a number of community groups were consulted and community colleges were consulted and other groups, but I do think there’s a legitimate criticism that it would’ve been good if we could’ve consulted everybody. But remember that this budget wasn’t passed – I mean, this was happening long before we even had a budget so that for a long time we were working on plans that were only hypothetical until we had a state budget that would tell us what they were going to be. Then as soon as we got that, we were – we had to then start disseminating the information because the application period for students is the month of October and November so there was then a very short window between the time we actually had a budget. Everything before that was much more theoretical and hypothetical conversation, and the time when applications had to begin and before those applications had to begin, all the guidance counselors had to be notified. They all had to have the information. We had to get it out to the students, etcetera.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, we do have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue our discussion with Dr. Stephen Weber, president of San Diego State University about a change in the admissions policy for local students applying for freshmen enrollment at SDSU in 2010. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Welcome back. My guest is Dr. Stephen Weber, president of San Diego State University, and we’re talking about SDSU’s change in admissions policy for students applying for freshmen enrollment in 2010, local students, that is, right here in San Diego and Imperial Counties. Dr. Weber, I wonder, I think you told us before how much reduction in the student enrollment in SDSU is expected to take place in the budget cuts. Could you tell us again?

DR. WEBER: Yes. In two years, in this year and next year, we will reduce our enrollment by 4618 students. It’s important to understand that if we reduced our enrollment to a level commensurate with the reduction in funds, we would be reducing by 7600 students and I mention that because it’s important for your listeners to understand that the faculty and staff of San Diego State have stepped up and are carrying 3000 students without state support just because they’re so concerned to make these educational opportunities available to our students.

CAVANAUGH: Now I don’t want to overwhelm listeners with numbers but have – do you have any projected idea of how many students in the San Diego-Imperial County service area that may – might have been qualified and gone to SDSU that will not be doing that now because of this change?

DR. WEBER: Yes, but I emphasize these are estimates and they will depend on how many applications we ultimately receive. But our best projection now is that next year we will turn away 23,000 qualified applicants, qualified. We’ll turn away many, many more than that that weren’t qualified for one reason or another, but these are qualified applicants. And I emphasize, as educators, we hate to be put in the position where we have to do this but of those 23,000 we will estimate that roughly—roughly—a thousand of those that we turn away, that is we deny admission to, will be local and 22,000 of those to whom we deny admission will be non-local. And I should emphasize that thousand that we deny admission to doesn’t mean that those thousand would all come to San Diego State. The – In rough terms, the yield rate is about 50% for local students so that might mean that of the reduction that we’re talking about of 4618 students, something in the order of 500 of those will probably be local.

CAVANAUGH: Now I want to talk about a couple of other changes to the admissions policy. One is you’re requiring incoming freshmen north of Route 56 to live on campus. Why is that?

DR. WEBER: Well, that’s a very – Thank you for asking that question because it’s a very important – and north of 56 goes all the way up to Oregon.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

DR. WEBER: So we need to remember it’s not just…


DR. WEBER: …San Diego County. These are any students that are outside of our service area, we’re requiring to live in the residence halls, as close as north of 56, Poway. There are, I should say, provisions for low income students so that if there’s a financial hardship, they would not be faced with that. But the underlying reason for that is that we now have, with the reduction in our student body, we have empty beds on campus. Well, empty beds, in and of themselves, is not a problem that one would care about except that we have a debt service of $6.4 million that must be paid. So if we don’t pay that debt service, then we’ll have even fewer spaces for students because now I’ll have to move funds away from faculty and staff and services and we can admit fewer students. So we are here asking our non-local students to, in effect, carry that cost which will make it possible for us to admit even more students.

CAVANAUGH: How much does that tag on a tuition bill, living in residence here on campus?

DR. WEBER: Well, let’s be – It’s – I don’t think that’s the right way to say it…


DR. WEBER: …because it costs people a certain amount to live wherever they live. So it’s hard to know how to compare that one to the other. But in rough terms, let’s say, $12,000 for room and board on campus but it’s not as if people wouldn’t be eating if they weren’t attending San…

CAVANAUGH: Exactly, they wouldn’t be paying something anyway. And there are changes involved in – that are going to affect local transfer students from community colleges, is that correct?

DR. WEBER: Yes, and here’s a case where our historic ratio for community college transfers has been 60% local but we have what are called transfer agreement guarantees with our local community colleges and we’re committed to honoring those guarantees. So in honoring those guarantees, I think what we’re going to find next year, depending on the number of applications we receive, is that our transfer students are likely to be approaching 100% local next year.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Now some people have asked why did SDSU decide to change the policy in accepting qualified local students and – instead of – why did they change that policy instead of just raising student fees in…

DR. WEBER: Well, we don’t have the authority to raise student fees. Student fees are set system wide. So there aren’t differential fees by campus, they’re set by the board of trustees. And in partial response to the budget cuts that we’ve all suffered as a system, our student fees have been increased by 30% just this year on top of, I think, 10% a year increases for at least the prior three years. So the fees are going up but when I said that we’d had a net loss of $35 million this year, the cut from the State of California was $55 million. Students, with those higher fees, restored $20 million of it. It’s still a loss of $35 million.

CAVANAUGH: And then other critics say, well, why not cut the out-of-state population at SDSU and keep that guarantee for local students?

DR. WEBER: Well, there’s a difference between out of service area but still in California versus out of state.

CAVANAUGH: Well, that’s what I mean, out of service area.

DR. WEBER: Okay, well, remember what I said before, we’re turning away many, many, many more and a much higher proportion of the out of service area. They will be required to come with much higher scores. On the other hand, there are lots of people in the rest of California who also support this institution with their taxes who have worked very hard in school, sometimes overcome exactly the same economic hardships that students have here and yet have prepared themselves very, very well. So if you look at the graduation rates of the students who would be turned away, that is the students with those minimal scores, their graduation rate is – has been averaging about 27% while those from outside of our service area have been averaging about 64%. So at some point, one has to pay attention to if I have to ration education, which I would rather I didn’t have to do, I have to pay a little bit of attention to whether that investment is likely to yield the dividend that the taxpayers of California are looking for when they support these students.

CAVANAUGH: Now my last question to you is, oh, there is – there are many people who have asked San Diego State to reconsider this policy. The San Diego Unified School Board has asked for rescind – asked you to rescind the policy. I’m wondering, is there any change possible this year and are you taking any of this input and thinking about the years to come?

DR. WEBER: Well, we’re taking this input very seriously. We’re getting a lot of input. And the truth is, we’re already into this cycle pretty heavily. There are lessons that we have learned and we are continuing to learn about it. I am very concerned that next year’s budget will be even worse than this year’s budget. So the problem to which we’re responding is not likely to go away. All the projections of California revenues are down in the next couple of years. So we will continue to have the problem and then it becomes a matter of trying to find the best and fairest solution for all the citizens of California.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for speaking with us.

DR. WEBER: My pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Dr. Stephen Weber. He is president of San Diego State University. I want to remind you, you can post your comments about what you hear on KPBS at Stay with us, coming up, KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

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