California students need not apply – but others can

The California State University system has drawn ire over plans to bar California residents from applying to undergraduate and graduate courses in the spring due to state budget cuts. Non-resident and international students, however, are permitted to apply at some campuses because they pay higher fees and don’t receive a state subsidy.

Some faculty members are criticising the move, pointing out that it contradicts the system’s open-door policy. “It’s discriminatory,” said Maria Nieto, a biology professor at Cal State East Bay. “It goes against our mission.”

Rather than turn away California residents, Nieto’s department has decided it won’t accept any students for the spring term. “If you can’t afford to run a programme at a state university system, then you shut the programme down,” she said.

California State University, or Cal State – the largest state system in the country – announced in July that it would freeze the application cycle at most of its 23 campuses for the 2013 spring term to tackle severe funding cuts that have crippled state higher education in the past few years.

Cal State said it would limit new student applications for the spring term to only 10 campuses, and even then only a select few would be able to apply (mainly community college transfer students).

Campuses can, however, decide whether to accept non-resident and international students “at their discretion”, said Cal State spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp. Non-resident and international students pay significantly higher fees than California residents, who receive a subsidy from the state.

Cal State has exceeded the number of California residents for whom the state provides financial support, said William Nance, vice president for student affairs at San José State University, a Cal State campus.

“Since non-resident students and resident students enrolled in non-state-supported programmes are charged tuition rates that cover the full cost of their education, they are not restricted,” he said.

Cal State has suffered nearly $1 billion in state funding cuts over the past four years, and is bracing itself for a potential further $250 million blow if Proposition 30 – a tax hike initiative – is rejected by voters in November.

Uhlenkamp said the university system now has the same funding that it had in the mid-1990s, but with 90,000 more students.

The cuts have left Cal State leaders scrambling to bridge the gap. Barring California residents from applying is just the latest in a series of cost-cutting measures implemented by the university system.

Since 2008, Cal State has laid off more than 3,000 members of its faculty and staff, boosted class sizes and increased the faculty’s workload.

But Nieto said the latest plan signals the start of a downward spiral.

“What’s to preclude this from continuing into the fall or the following spring, or for the administration to say ‘why bother with California students at all?’” she said.

Campus officials didn’t deny the possibility that Nieto’s prediction may come to pass.

“States, and not just California, continue to pass along the burden of funding education onto students and families by reducing the support that they have historically provided,” said Nance. “Whether it is a stopgap measure or a longer-term continuing shift will become known over the coming years.”