Colleges struggle to make ends meet

Due to the state’s continuing financial crisis, Fresno State is considering further measures to balance its budget, such as program and department cuts.

Although Fresno State and other universities have attempted to save by making decisions such as cutting faculty and operational costs, advantages are limited and more assistance may be necessary. Program and department cuts, or even elimination, are being considered by some as possible solutions.

There has also been discussion of merging or consolidating departments and programs. One suggestion was also made for a reduction in the number of required General Education (GE) courses.

“If we see conditions worsen, we will have to start making some real hard choices on each CSU campus,” said Andrew Jones, professor of sociology and member of the Academic Senate. “I think that conditions could actually get far worse than what [the administration] has envisioned is possible.”

According to Jones, some university administrators have been emphasizing a need to return to core studies, such as math and science, instead of offering what they consider to be less practical majors such as philosophy or music.

“They’ve labeled these programs as being ‘boutique’ courses or ‘boutique’ majors,” Jones said. “This suggests that they are not central or necessary for attainment of a job.”

Jones suggests that more practical fields of study will be preserved, but majors that are deemed unnecessary may be in danger of getting cut or merged together in the future. He said he believes that, although there was a struggle to get diverse majors such as ethnic studies offered in higher education, there has been an attempt to roll this back.

“I can see them looking at every department in every college and looking at a cost-benefit analysis,” Jones said.

One other possible effect of this is the merging of departments or programs. Other CSU’s have done this, such as CSU Stanislaus. They have merged departments and programs for more than 40 years.

However, they have 9,000 students on average compared to the 22,000 at Fresno State.

Jones said merging is less likely to be implemented at Fresno State than program cuts due to possible logistical issues.

“What we do here may not work well at CSU Stanislaus, and vice versa,” he said.

There are some colleges at Fresno State that are more in danger of facing programmatic cuts or mergers than others, according to Jones. One is the College of Arts and Humanities, due to the fact that the subjects in this college are considered less practical. However, Associate Dean José Díaz doesn’t believe that the college is in financial danger or that it will suffer significant programmatic changes.

“I don’t see it happening in the foreseeable future,” Díaz said. “We are trying to protect the integrity of our programs.”

According to the 2009-10 budget, however, the college is facing severe deficits in some of its programs. During the 2008-09 year, the communication department spent $57,227 more than what the general fund allotted. The music department had the worst shortfall; spending $154,735 over its budget. The college was able to break even overall.

Díaz said the college is seeking alternative funding, such as private support, to help fill in the budget gaps left by the general fund. The college also doesn’t plan to cut essential classes required for graduation, although they may cut some elective classes if necessary. Díaz said that the college’s main goal is to avoid more faculty layoffs.

There are a few colleges considered practical that are also struggling financially and in risk of facing significant cuts; one is the Lyles College of Engineering, which is the smallest college on campus. It has educated approximately 1,200 majors a year since 2005, according to Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning (IRAP) data. It also receives the lowest budget out of all of the colleges on campus. According to the 2009-10 budget, they were given approximately $4.5 million for the last budget year. The Craig School of Business was second lowest at over $6.2 million.

According to the budget, out of the four major options under the Lyles College of Engineering, two were in the red in the 2008-09 year. The civil and geomatics engineering department spent $38,053 over its budget while the mechanical and industrial engineering department overspent by $92, 373.

Although the college was able to break even for the year, Michael Jenkins, dean of the college, agrees that they are still facing significant problems.

“We are struggling financially because we are smaller and only educate our majors,” Jenkins said.

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