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Funding priorities, executive salaries top agenda as Cal State trustees welcome five new campus presidents

When Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on the state’s final budget plan, which gave California State University about 60% of the additional funding that administrators said they needed for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, university officials had to make tough allocation decisions and downsized certain priorities, such as student enrollment.

The new spending plan will be presented Tuesday to the Board of Trustees in Long Beach, where the governing board will also get a first look at this year’s proposed salaries for Cal State’s top officials.

The final budget agreement gave Cal State an additional $154 million from the state general fund — raising total state support for the university system to $3.2 billion. Brown also allocated a one-time funding boost of $87 million toward specific purposes this budget year, which began July 1.

Cal State, the nation’s largest public university system, is dependent on state general funds to cover about half its operating costs. Tuition and fees cover the rest. 

Some changes to this year’s expenditure plan include:

Increasing student enrollment: The Board of Trustees requested an additional $110 million for enrollment growth — enough to fund roughly 12,600 new students. The final state budget plan allocated an additional $57.4 million, which will allow the system to accept about 6,100 new students.

This issue will continue to be a sticking point for Cal State. Although enrollment throughout the system has increased by about 20,000 since 2008, officials have not been able to make room for everyone who wants to attend a Cal State school. The system last fall had to turn away about 30,000 applicants who fulfilled all admission requirements, Chancellor Timothy P. White told the Times earlier this year.

Infrastructure maintenance: Cal State has a backlog of buildings that are in need of repair or replacement — maintenance work totaling about $2.6 billion and growing by $150 million each year, officials said. Trustees requested an additional $25 million each year in the state budget for these needs, but policymakers did not include this in the final budget plan. Instead, the state provided a one-time boost of $35 million earmarked for this year’s most urgent infrastructure needs.

Improving graduation rates: The university requested an additional $50 million to improve graduation rates, such as providing more hands-on academic advisers. In its final budget plan, the state allocated $10.2 million as well as a one-time appropriation of roughly $15 million toward improving degree completion. An additional one-time boost of $35 million is expected in the fall once university officials have updated goals and plans to improve graduation rates. 

Brown has been sharply critical of Cal State’s performance: Across the country, the average four-year graduation rate for public universities is about 34%. Across the Cal State system, the average is about 19%.

White said he wants to raise that rate to 24% by 2025. University officials on Tuesday will update the trustees on their progress toward that goal.

Officials are also expected to present their 2016-2017 salary recommendations for the chancellor, campus presidents and other top officials. Executive compensation has been a thorny issue in the past: The system took heat in 2011 when trustees approved a $100,000 increase in compensation for the incoming San Diego State president as it increased annual student tuition by 12%. The next year, Cal State adopted a policy that froze compensation paid with state funds while allowing a 10% increase paid with private donations. In November 2015, in a move to quell criticism and controversy,  the trustees voted to eliminate the use of private funds to supplement salaries.

Officials had long argued that restricting compensation puts the system at a disadvantage when trying to attract the most qualified candidates. This took on greater urgency earlier this year when the Chico, Channel Islands, San Jose, Sonoma and Stanislaus campuses were searching to replace outgoing presidents.

The five new presidents, all women, were named in recent months and reflect White’s push for more diversity in hiring. Eleven women now serve as Cal State presidents — more than at any period in the 23-campus system’s history — and will sit together for the first time at Tuesday’s meeting. The five new campus leaders took office July 1.

The trustees will also hear public comments from students on possible tuition increases, homelessness and a number of other long-running concerns weighing the system, according to the group Students for Quality Education. Initial findings of a recent study commissioned by White found that about 1 in 10 of Cal State’s 460,000 students are homeless, and 1 in 5 do not have steady access to enough food.

University officials and the trustees are scheduled to meet Tuesday from 9:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., and the meetings are open to the public. A live stream of the open sessions can also be viewed here

Follow @RosannaXia on Twitter for more higher education news.

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A previous version of this article said the average four-year graduation rate for the Cal State system is about 17%. That number was 19% as of April, university officials said.
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