Chancellor explains challenges

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Cal State University Chancellor Timothy White met with students on a “student level” to analyze some of the challenges facing the CSUs and his plan to overcome them at a press conference on Feb. 6.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2013-14 budget presented to the CSU Board of Trustees late last month included a road map of where the different funds are headed. One item included a $10 million increase for online instruction.

White said the funds would be used to invest in technology to enhance the learning environment and redesign courses to allow more students through “bottleneck” courses that have shown to impede students’ process of continuing their education.

“We need to get students through with the same high expectation of content in a different way,” said White.

White added that some of the bottleneck courses have high withdrawal, dropout and failure rates and that the CSUs have a moral responsibility to identify places where there are low levels of success.

Though the exact plan is not in place, the purpose of the funds is to build a bigger pipeline for more students to get through the system quicker; this might include more sections or online classes fused with discussion.

Many bottleneck courses hold students back but White guaranteed there is a system-wide initiative to eliminate them while allowing each CSU to shape their own curriculum.

“The goal fits everybody but how you get there is going to be the individuality of a campus,” White said.

One of the major challenges facing the CSU is the number of students applying and the ability of the system to deliver an education. The main issues are high demands for university services and finite resources that could include courses or faculty.

“We will grow only when we have the resources to make sure that when a student is admitted to a campus, they are able to get to classes in a timely way,” White said.

The blending of faculty, technology and students would create the learning environment of the future, White said. He added that money will probably not be saved but hopefully students are admitted and get through courses quicker with the existing resources.

Another part of the budget was to grow the student body by five percent because of high admissions demand. White’s view was to focus on being more “effective” with the resources the CSUs already have, which includes technology.

“We have to be smart in using technology where it makes sense,” White said. “Not to use technology as the end-all because that’s not what a university education is about.”

He stated that despite the benefits of online programming, a university education is about personal growth and working in a multicultural and global environment, which is something students cannot experience online.

The budget also included a transfer in of general obligation bond debt service. The CSUs currently, as well as in the past, issue bonds to complete major renovations and construct buildings. Many of the CSU campuses, including Fullerton, were built in the ‘50s and now require major renovations.

White said they are concerned about this part of the bill and are in conversation with Sacramento lawmakers about the intended and unintended consequences that could go sour.

“There won’t be future year’s supplements to pay for the debt service,” White said. “It’s going to limit dramatically the way in which the campuses can maintain themselves or grow and that’s a big concern.”

The Chancellor assured that the general obligation bond debt service does not have a big impact on the operating budget for the next couple of years. He said it is his job as a campus leader to worry about the next five to 20 years and that is where the “devil is in the details.”

General obligation bonds are paid back to the buyers with an interest rate paid by each campus. This, in turn, comes from public dollars of the student or the taxpayer pockets.

“People that have paid for this amazing system over the years are Californians,” White said. “Not an interest group, not an outlier political point of view … This is a California State University and never lose track of that.”

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