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Cal State efficiencies save millions, but state funding still sought

Cal State campuses pursue cost-cutting

Smaller budgets and increased numbers of students are forcing California State University campuses to take far-reaching cost-cutting measures that are saving millions of dollars on technology, energy and operations, officials said Wednesday.

Examples include $37 million in savings since 2011-12 from campuses sharing network equipment. About $2 million was saved using new technologies such as cloud computing and $9 million using electronic library materials.

Cal State is also collaborating on purchasing with K-12 school districts, community colleges and UC campuses.

In a presentation to the board of trustees meeting in Long Beach on Wednesday, officials said such moves are crucial after budget cuts during the recession resulted in the loss of nearly $1 billion in state funding.

Funding has increased incrementally under multi-year spending plans brokered by Gov. Jerry Brown, but remains far below pre-recession levels.  Officials estimate, for example, that the system will need $97 million more in state funding for 2015-16 than is being proposed in Brown’s budget.

In addition, the 23-campus system lacks resources to address structural repairs and other deferred maintenance that could cost more than $1.7 billion.

Efficiencies are having an impact: Spending for each degree produced in the system is $8,000 less than a decade ago, said Steve Relyea, executive vice chancellor and chief financial officer.

“We simply cannot serve an increasing student population without finding ways to reduce costs,” Relyea said. “Those savings are staying on campus and are critical to operations.”

Chancellor Timothy P. White cautioned, though, that restricting budgets too much could produce diminishing returns.  Budget reductions and cost-cutting have affected the quality of education at Cal State campuses, he said.

White has referred previously to his concerns about the quality of education, pointing to such things as reduced student services, lower faculty hiring, deteriorated buildings and labs.

On Wednesday, he appealed for more state funding to an audience that included Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, also a trustee.

“You cannot efficiency your way to academic excellence,” White told trustees. “I’m worried as chancellor at how vulnerable CSU is and as a result, how vulnerable California is.”

In other matters, Texas educator Robert S. Nelsen was named president of California State University, Sacramento.

He succeeds Alexander Gonzalez, who is retiring in June after leading the Sacramento campus for 12 years.

Nelsen has been serving as an advisor for the University of Texas system and was previously president of the University of Texas-Pan American, in Edinburg, Texas.

"Sacramento State has truly become a destination campus where students receive a transformative educational experience that prepares them for success in the future," Nelsen said in a statement.

While in Texas, Nelsen was key in helping to establish the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley campus, a bicultural, bilingual university.

His experience working in a large university system with diverse students were assets, said Steven Glazer, who headed the trustee search committee.

Nelsen "is an accomplished and visionary leader who will successfully build on the foundation that President Gonzalez has established at Sacramento State," Glazer said.

Nelsen received bachelor's and master's degrees in political science from Brigham Young University and a doctorate in social thought from the University of Chicago.

He is scheduled to assume duties in July. His compensation will be set by trustees at a future meeting.

Twitter: @carlariveralat

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