Cal State Universities are trying to attract more applicants. here’s why

System officials at California State University are facing a new challenge that no one could have predicted in recent years: an oversupply of enrollment.

Governor Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature significantly increased funding for state universities in this year’s budget, with a $365 million increase in annual spending and a one-time windfall of $1.1 billion. for the system – enough to guarantee space for another 10,000 people. student time next year.

The sudden expansion marks a turning point in the fortunes of an institution that just four years ago was so strained its admissions office had to turn away one in ten qualified applicants, or 31,000 potential students. In a typical year, California State University enrolls nearly 500,000 students across 23 campuses.

While demand for some campuses hasn’t waned, Cal State University administrators are bracing for a completely different situation: declining enrollment at community colleges that traditionally serve as feeder schools, at a time when universities finally have sufficient capacity.

Some cite the pandemic as a key factor in declining enrollment, saying it has disrupted the lives of a student body that tends to be older, with families to support and bills to pay.

“With COVID, things are definitely not what they have been historically,” April Grommo, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management services, said Monday.

She also pointed to improved graduation rates at California state universities, the result of expanded summer semesters, new credit opportunities and a concerted effort to break down “administrative barriers.” , such as unpaid library fines or charges for broken lab equipment. , which could prevent a student from graduating.

As more and more people cross the finish line, Cal State has managed to remove certain campuses from its list of “impacted” sites that are receiving more applications than they can serve. Cal State East Bay, Monterey Bay and Chico State are no longer on the list, though other campuses, including San Jose State University, still don’t have room for everyone who applies.

It’s unclear, however, whether applicants will be pouring in at the same feverish pace in years to come. John Douglass, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Higher Education, noted that the boiling job market is driving some people away from college, especially from public schools and community colleges. The COVID lockdowns also diminished the appeal of higher education, Douglass said, as classes were mostly conducted online and no longer seemed worth the cost of tuition.

He predicts a return to normal once the pandemic subsides and high school graduation rates pick up next year. The specter of an economic downturn may also draw people back to school, Douglass said.

But it is not easy to predict the fluctuations of the economy or the evolution of society’s attitudes towards the university. Falling birth rates may even play a role, Grommo said. Education researchers expect the number of high school graduates to peak in the next two years — a phenomenon known as the “population cliff” — which will likely cause college enrollment to plummet.

Nonetheless, Grommo struck an optimistic tone.

“We like to say, ‘managing enrollment is an art,'” she said, praising the state’s commitment to giving more people access to an affordable four-year degree.

Cal State University’s priority submission period for applications and financial aid ends November 30.

Rachel Swan is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]