By Nicolas Hernandez, April 27, 2021
Among the 23 California State University campuses, Cal Poly Pomona ranks the lowest in budget funds per student and possesses the second-highest student-to-faculty ratio for the 2020 fall semester, as revealed by a Poly Post analysis of available CSU data.
These findings, using CSU enrollment and instructional faculty full-time equivalence data for the 2020 fall term and budgets for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, demonstrate possible ramifications of the university’s use of over-enrollment, a strategy administrators have championed amid adverse financial conditions from the COVID-19 pandemic, and lack of adequate funding from the CSU for Southern California campuses.
CPP was allocated $12,478 from its campus budget per FTE enrollment last fall, about $8,737 less than the best-funded campus per student, Humboldt State, excluding Cal Maritime, and about $2,179 less than the total CSU campus funding per fall FTE enrollment.
CPP also possesses a 25-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio for the fall 2020 semester, the second-highest in the university system with San Diego State being the only campus with a slightly higher ratio. Humboldt State once again boasted the lowest ratio of 16-to-1 (excluding Cal Maritime) with the CSU average being about 21-to-1. Only counting tenure-track faculty, CPP maintains the second-highest ratio with a 46-to-1 ratio, this time below CSU Dominguez Hills.
University administrators emphasized that these figures only represent a snapshot of the fall 2020 semester and the campuses’ standings may change when including spring 2021 enrollment figures as spring terms tend to have a drop in enrollment. However, the CSU system does not widely publish spring term enrollment data.
In light of these figures, Associate Provost Sep Eskandari described the fall 2020 semester as “an unusual term” considering the campus’ shift to virtual learning as a result of the pandemic and the related state funding drop-off to CSU campuses that left CPP with a $20 million budget gap.
The fall semester also saw CPP holding the largest increase in enrollment than any other CSU campus with a 6.4% jump, whereas other campuses, like Humboldt, saw significant decreases in both first-time undergraduate and total enrollment.
“In fall 2020, because of a very large interest in Cal Poly Pomona programs, our enrollment saw an increase that initially had not been anticipated,” said Eskandari. CPP also ranked last in 2019-20 budget funds per student in fall 2019, prior to the pandemic’s toll on the university system, and CPP has widened its distance between its funding per full-time equivalent student and that of the CSU campus total each consecutive fall term since 2016, according to full-time equivalent enrollment data from the CSU’s enrollment dashboards and budget data from past years’ CSU Fact Books.
During last semester’s budget forum, Associate Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services Joe Simoneschi discussed the budgetary benefits of over-enrollment, the process by which the university enrolls more students than its original projection.
“I think when it comes to the dollars, it is beneficial for us to have over-enrollment because our costs are fixed; many of them are fixed,” said Simoneschi in an interview with The Poly Post, discussing CPP’s fall 2020 rankings. “So if we have over-enrollment and additional dollars are coming in, we can continue to invest in the students and the quality education that we have at Cal Poly Pomona. So, it is a strategy that is beneficial.”
For some faculty members, however, increased enrollment coupled with inadequate funding, puts into question the ability to deliver quality education and student support.
Mario Guerrero, chair and associate professor in the Department of Political Science, discussed his concerns about funding per student after a lack of commitment from the provost to rehire the department’s administrative coordinator, Kim Alm, along with support staff from other College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences departments.
“I think the realest thing is losing Kim being that there’s no money in the budget for it,” said Guerrero. “And it’s not like the campus has stopped spending money … even during COVID, they have hiring for administrators, not for staff and departments, not for people at the lowest levels.”
Guerrero attended last semester’s budget meeting where the over-enrollment strategy was touted by administrators but believes that departments should have been more involved in conversations about expanding enrollment.
“It concerns me because we weren’t asked about it as department chairs,” said Guerrero. “Typically, we as chairs, give enrollment targets for our department … And it’s not like we have an ability to set the numbers, but at least it’s a conversation. Because of COVID, for the first time in the last couple of years probably, we weren’t asked; they just did it.”
John Lloyd, a professor in the History Department and chair of the CPP Academic Senate Budget Committee, expressed concern about the campus’ funding and student-faculty ratio as well.
“I would like to see state funding increased for the CSU, class sizes reduced, and class offerings increased,” stated Lloyd in an email to The Poly Post. “This year, every division at CPP was impacted by a $20M budget gap when our budget was reduced.”
Evaluating enrollment strategies, Eskandari pointed out that Southern California campuses are in high demand due to the region’s high population and that CPP specifically has been more attractive to students in recent years due to the campus’ positive reputation — factors that encourage administrators to admit more students.
“And again if we were to just pause back and think, ‘Do we want to be a much more selective school and lock the door on so many students?’” Eskandari said. “‘Or do we want to increase access, meet the needs of our region, meet the needs of the students who want to come here for our programs, and then do everything in our power to balance that need, offer the classes that they need, and make sure they get the classes?’”
With increased enrollment, however, finding the faculty to teach those courses may be more of a challenge.
According to Guerrero, the burden of teaching the political science department’s intro-level courses is increasingly falling on part-time faculty.
“We really should be going in the other direction, we should be hiring more tenure-track faculty,” said Guerrero. “We should not be forced to hire part-time faculty for an over-enrollment that we didn’t have any say in.”
As of April 25, the CSU Careers Job Search displayed no results for faculty positions at Cal Poly Pomona while there were 16 search results for staff positions and 12 for management positions. Decisions concerning the allocation of tenure-track faculty hiring are usually made during the spring semester. Pomona, Channel Islands, Fresno, San Francisco and Sonoma were the only CSU campuses without at least one full-time, tenure-track faculty search ongoing.
The university has launched several administrative job searches after March 2020, during the pandemic, including: director of Admissions and Enrollment Planning; director for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs; associate dean for students and operations in the College of Science; presidential associate for Inclusive Excellence and chief diversity officer; senior associate vice president for facilities; associate vice president and dean of students; vice president for administrative, finance, and strategic development.
During last semester’s budget forum, Provost Sylvia Alva discussed how the remote learning environment and the university’s actions permitted more students to enroll in each course section.
“What we do see are places across departments and colleges where, because we don’t have the classroom constraints, faculty were able to add additional students to their class to be able to serve the needs of their students,” Alva said last October. “We also, in Academic Affairs created incentives for the faculty to take on additional students, by adding, depending on the size of the course, additional workload credit, supplemental instructors, tutors, to ensure that’s a good experience for everyone.”
Eskandari, who previously served as the department chair for the Biological Sciences Department, reiterated Alva’s appraisal and described tackling the student-faculty ratio as “a balancing act” and
recalled facing the decision between not offering course sections that have high demand or increasing the number of students in each section.
“Some classes, the pedagogy allows them to become larger,” Eskandari said. “When the faculty say, ‘Yes, this class can become larger’ then we provide additional workload considerations for the faculty, but we also provide student assistants who can serve as peer mentors for supplemental instruction or as graders to ensure that not only do we address the faculty workload, but we put measures in place to stay committed to student success.”
Eskandari also said that the student-faculty ratio has never historically been at the 25-to-1 range but predicted that in future years the ratio will begin to decrease and fall back to its pre-pandemic levels.
“Some of the things that we put in place were sustainable, some of the things probably were not sustainable but were necessary to meet the budget constraints this year,” added Eskandari.
Looking ahead, CPP’s future standing in these rankings will depend on its approach to fall 2021 enrollment and faculty hiring as well as state funding and federal aid.
Lloyd said that he and a group of students, faculty and alumni have lobbied local legislators to restore the university system’s base funding from its cut last year in an effort supported by University President Soraya Coley, ASI and the Office of Government and External Affairs.
“It is true we don’t have everything we need, but we’re fighting to get more for our students,” added Lloyd.
While Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget does include an increase to the CSU system in the shape of $144.5 million in recurring funds and $225 million in one-time funding, Simoneschi said that gauging its impact on CPP will need to wait until the state’s budget becomes official July 1, though he added that advocacy for additional funding is always ongoing.
Feature image courtesy of Richard Garippo.
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