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Education for Some

Budget constraints force Sonoma State to advance application deadlines

By Joy Lanzendorfer

From the beginning, the mission of the California State University system has been to provide an education to all students who want one. If you complete the basic requirements, like taking the SAT or ACT and passing four years of high school English, there should be a place for you somewhere within the system. It's a state bargain: a decent education for anyone who wants it for one low, low price.

But thanks to the budget cuts, if students want to take advantage of this deal, they'd better act now and get going on their applications, or the bargain of a lifetime might pass them by.

Sonoma State University, which is part of the CSU system, is limiting the number of students it is accepting for fall 2004. Next year the school can only afford to replace the some 1,300 students graduating in the spring. Normally, SSU adds between 300 and 400 new students a year at a 3 percent to 4 percent growth rate, but this year it is struggling to simply take care of the students already enrolled. Along with most California universities, SSU has had to raise tuition twice in the last two years and is cutting its budget as much as possible.

As part of the process of restricting next year's incoming class, SSU is moving the fall application deadline to Nov. 30 from its usual mid-December date. Students who apply before that date increase their chances of getting into SSU next year. And in fact, the sooner they get their applications in, the better.

"We are setting up the classes early this year, because we can't miss our target for next year," says spokesperson Susan Kashack. "So moving up the deadline will help us to know the numbers."

The only exception to the deadline is that transfer students can still send in applications after Nov. 30. Sonoma State guarantees it will accept all eligible transfer students, according to Kashack.

Sonoma State is not the only CSU school forced to restrict the number of incoming freshmen. Some schools are so full they can hardly accept new students at all. Others are only restricting certain types of students, such as transfers. These changes come at a time when more students than ever are applying for admission and many people are returning to school because of the economy.

All this, and no one even knows the 2004-2005 budget yet. It's possible CSU schools may have to raise tuition a third time.

"We don't know yet what will happen in the fall," says Clara Potes-Fellow, spokesperson for the CSU system. "But at this point, CSU doesn't plan to fund enrollment growth. Many schools will only be replacing students who leave and will not be accommodating new students."

By moving up the application date, SSU is creating a first-come, first-serve scenario, where all eligible students are accepted until the school reaches its quota for next year. Which begs the question: instead of pushing up the application deadline, why not just pick the best students from the bunch or make it a little tougher to get into SSU in the first place?

The reason SSU isn't doing either of those things, according to Kashack, is that the school wants everyone to have a crack at being educated.

"We accept as many students as we can," says Kashack. "Part of our mission is that we are here to teach everyone who wants to go to college and is ready. The big difference is that starting in 2004, that may no longer be possible. We have to make sure that the students who are already here are getting taught properly before we can take on more new students."

But if the budget crisis continues long enough or if SSU continues to grow in popularity, it may have to consider raising the bar for basic entrance requirements, believes Doug Pepe, counselor at El Molino High School.

"So far, SSU has guaranteed admissions and hasn't raised the bar," Pepe says. "Other individual CSU campuses have, such as Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, one of the most competitive campuses to get into. It has a number of requirements beyond the minimum. In the future, as admission gets tighter, SSU might have to do that as well."

Students are facing a tough year ahead. Not only is there more competition for fewer slots, tuition is much higher than it was just a short time ago. Classes are likely to be crowded and limited, especially for incoming freshmen, and many students will have to take on more debt to pay for it all.

One thing is certain: it's not a great time to be starting college in California.

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From the November 20-26, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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