Gov. Jerry Brown used a budget debate among California State University trustees Tuesday to press his case for more online education and suggested that the vast system may need to fix leaky roofs and make other urgent building repairs before increasing enrollment.
The discussion came during a meeting of the Board of Trustees in Long Beach after presentation of a preliminary budget plan that seeks an additional $250 million in state funding next year.
Last fall, more than 22,000 eligible students were turned away, a continuing legacy of more than $1 billion in budget cuts that resulted in steep reductions in classes and other programs during the state’s fiscal crisis.
University officials said the funds would be used to admit an additional 20,000 students, increase faculty and course offerings and expand advising and other programs to help students succeed.
About $15 million would also be used to help finance a backlog of critical repairs and upgrades, totaling more than $1 billion, officials said.
An example is Cal State Los Angeles, which recently had to lease a mobile chilling unit at a cost of $155,000 a month to power campus cooling systems after the old equipment gave out. Officials said electrical and water systems on some campuses date back more than half a century.
There is growing concern that some key buildings at nearly every campus may need to be closed, said trustee Lou Monville, adding “I lay awake at night wondering do we have faculty, staff and students in unsafe buildings.”
Brown questioned whether the 430,000-student system may be over-reaching in its enrollment plans.
"If you take more people than you’re already serving, you’re going to expand the need for space, gas, electricity,” he said. “It sounds like buildings need to be taken care of before you bring more students in.”
The governor suggested that the system was unlikely to convince the Legislature to approve $250 million in additional funding given California’s still wobbly economy and competing demands. The state risks being held in contempt of federal court, for example, if it does not spend millions to improve prison conditions, he said.
"You can ask for more, but you have to understand that you’re not alone, a bunch of other people are also asking,” Brown said.
The governor said demands on the system required innovative thinking such as greater use of online classes that could accommodate greater numbers of students at a lower cost.
Part of his multi-year funding plan for Cal State and the University of California included $10 million each this year to develop new learning technologies, including online classes.
But several trustees expressed frustration at the pace of efforts to develop online classes that model MOOCs -- massive open online courses -- which can enroll hundreds of students.
The discussion came during a review of several initiatives designed to identify classes that are most in demand or needed for degrees but often stymie students because of high failure rates or because too few of the classes are available, among other issues.
A survey identified 1,294 so-called bottleneck courses, including many in the science and math fields, liberal arts and health.
The system is trying a number of approaches, including a program to allow students at any Cal State campus to enroll in fully online classes offered by other campuses.
This fall, 33 such courses are available with an enrollment of nearly 200 students.
But some trustees said that was inadequate to help thousands of students move more quickly toward graduation.
Some of the technology money, they said, should be used to expand efforts like that at San Jose State, which has partnered with the online for-profit education provider Udacity to offer low-cost fully online classes for credit.
The project, however, is controversial and has achieved mixed results; it also has been put on hold while officials review it more thoroughly.
“What San Jose State is trying to do is scale classes up, and yet none of the $10 million seems to have gone for replicating that experience,” said trustee Douglas Faigin.
Officials said that campuses currently lack the technology to offer such classes on a wide basis, although San Francisco State is proposing a labor class that could accommodate up to 500 students.
Chancellor Timothy P. White acknowledged there was more work to be done.
"We haven’t gotten all the way we need to go yet, but we’ve only been at it a handful of months; it’s a work in progress,” he said.
Faculty and students also urged caution in moving too quickly.
“This is not going to be the be-all, end-all solution,” said Sarah Couch, president of the California State Student Assn. “We’re concerned that educational quality will be affected.”
Trustees are expected to adopt a final budget plan in November.
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