Like many whom it serves, Cal State Fullerton has encountered hard times. State budget squeezes, driven partly by the recession but more by choices made in Sacramento, have hit Orange County's largest university hard. The result is a present inability to serve all of the qualified students who seek higher education at CSUF--a mismatch that, unchecked, may put at risk the future prosperity of the region and of the state.
A recent North Orange County Municipal Court hearing makes clear the university's pervasive community impact. In the dock was a CSUF student whose car registration had expired. Two CSUF faculty appeared as character witnesses; both the public defender and the assistant district attorney were CSUF graduates. The judge, a loyal Cal State Fullerton grad himself, noted that they ought to convene an alumni meeting after the hearing.
Cal State Fullerton's School of Business Administration and Economics alone boasts about 25,000 graduates, 85% of whom live and work in the Orange County area. Similar stories of benefit to the community can be found in teacher education, engineering, fine arts and many other programs. The moral is: Cal State Fullerton trains this region's leadership.
But all is not well. The full-time equivalent student budget for 1992-93 is 15,425--down more than 2,500 from the original target for last year. Budget cuts, not slack demand, are the cause: the campus laid off or failed to rehire the equivalent of 150 full-time faculty in the last two years, and campus class offerings have declined by 600 as a direct result.
In fact, for all of the cuts in faculty and classes and students, those areas were relatively protected, as disproportionate cuts were "taken" in areas away from the classroom. Groundskeepers and custodians were laid off. Maintenance contracts were canceled. Meanwhile, library hours were cut by 17% in 1991-92, and Career Center hours and staff were hard hit. Counselor positions went unfilled.
Faculty morale predictably suffers in all of this. Workload increases are a part of that. The business school, for example, has 19% fewer faculty compared to two years ago; but with larger class sizes now the standard, the number of students served has declined only 9.5%. Morale also suffers as salaries lose ground to inflation. Some junior faculty realistically fear layoff, something only narrowly averted at San Diego State last year.
Among students, a frequently heard comment focuses on getting a degree quickly and "getting out" before quality erodes further and the price increases again. On the other hand, students are getting classes as the university attempts to manage enrollment to the required math or history courses.
But even if admitted students get classes, the Orange County region suffers when the program leading to the elementary school teaching credential turns away 19 fully qualified applicants as has happened for spring, 1993. A less-prosperous future looms when the School of Business closes enrollments completely for a semester as happened in spring, 1992. No good is in prospect for the 56 California cities and seven counties now served by Cal State Fullerton master of public administration graduates when the program must turn away qualified applicants for spring, 1993.
Ultimately, the issue must be investment in our own future. Orange County ought to want the music of a prosperous future. To gain it, Orange County ought to want its largest university to be able to train the next generation of leaders. Orange County ought to send that message to Sacramento decision-makers.