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LOOKING TO 1991 : The...

Orange County’s public colleges and universities have the grim task of trying to serve growing numbers of students with shrinking budgets.

The state budget crisis already has meant cuts to UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and the county’s eight community colleges, forcing some to impose hiring freezes and put projects on hold. The looming recession, educators say, means relief is likely to be long way off.

At UCI, the challenge in 1991 will be to maintain the ambitious institution’s drive to break into the ranks of the nation’s top universities. But the economic downturn and budget cuts are sure to affect operations, capital projects and possibly fund-raising.

“It might even impact our competitiveness with other universities around the country in recruiting faculty, support for research, and support of students in terms of scholarships,” said William Parker, UCI’s associate executive vice chancellor.

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“Right now, we’re in competition with the best universities around the country to recruit top faculty and students,” he said. “If everybody has equal problems (with funding), then we will remain competitive.”

The margin is tight. UCI--which has been growing fast in recent years and is projected to nearly double in size by 2005 to 26,000 students--remains seriously overcrowded in many areas despite a construction boom. With the failure of Proposition 143, a $450-million bond measure for higher education projects that voters rejected in November, university officials will be scrambling to find other sources for nearly $40 million in needed capital improvements.

Cal State Fullerton President Milton A. Gordon’s challenge is to “maintain the quality of education with a seriously eroded budget.”

After several years of budget cuts, Cal State Fullerton has no fat to trim, he said.

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This academic year, the university isn’t filling more than three dozen faculty and clerical positions. And although a previous bond measure provided money to build a new science wing, the defeat of Proposition 143 means no money for laboratory equipment to put in it.

“This is a very difficult period of time for us,” Gordon said.

It is no less challenging for two-year community colleges, where enrollments are expected to swell more than 33% by the year 2005. Without funds to increase the number of teachers and classrooms, these institutions that have traditionally taken all comers may soon have to turn away students, predicted Robert Jensen, chancellor of the Rancho Santiago Community College District, which serves 40,000 students on a budget of $70 million.

“I don’t see a quick fix out there, or a lot of money coming from Sacramento in next 12 to 18 months,” he said. “We’re all going to have to learn to cope with what we have.”


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