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SSU overenrolled, faces penalties


Sonoma State University has exceeded its enrollment limit and could face steep penalties unless it can reduce the number of classes in which its 8,000 students enroll.

The California State University system sets enrollment targets because students' fees do not fully cover the cost of their education, and it uses the threat of financial penalties as an incentive for its 23 campuses to live within their means.

"Unfortunately, we only have state funds and tuition" to cover the system's costs, "and when state funds are cut we don't have very many places to go," said Claudia Keith, a CSU spokeswoman.

SSU's planned solution — to further cap the number of units students can take — may put it on a collision course with students who have seen three tuition hikes in a year and say they need to graduate more quickly.

"Our education is getting more expensive, and so we are less and less able to afford it," said Anthony Gallino, a sophomore. "We need to get out of here as soon as we can."

Others say the university has few options.

"It's not ideal, but the last thing we have room to do is take another (budget) cut," said Alex Boyar, president of Associated Students, the student government organization.

The CSU budget has been cut by $974 million in the last three years — SSU's by about $40 million — forcing it to educate an increasing number of students with less money. An enrollment increase of five percent is projected for next year.

SSU now has the equivalent of four percent more full-time students enrolled than the target set by CSU, which establishes the enrollment goals to match its state funding.

If the university fails to get down to that target number for the spring semester, it may be fined $250,000 for each percent its enrollment is too high.

"We overshot it in the fall," said SSU Provost Andrew Rogerson.

Unlike other state university campuses, where the actual number of students is at issue, SSU doesn't have too many students, he said.

Rather, "the students we have are taking a lot of classes" driving up the number of units being taught — and the cost.

"The trick now is to make them take less units, and that will come down," Rogerson said.

Students like Gallino say that putting the blame on their shoulders is misplaced.

"Nobody takes more units than they actually need to graduate," said Gallino. He argued that the university admitted too many students — this semester's class of 1,800 freshmen was the largest in SSU history.

A new registration protocol will take effect in the spring that should address the problem, Rogerson said. It will stagger the process so students can only enroll in a certain number of courses at a time. And they will need approval to take more than 18 units.

The plan ensures that students can get enough units to keep them on path to graduation, and that only those who need them most will be able to take more, Rogerson said.

Faculty leaders said they support the approach.

"From my perspective, the story is the conflict between the decreasing funding and the increasing demand," said mathematics professor and faculty chairman Ben Ford. "This is an attempt to manage that as fairly as possible."

An earlier plan set the unit cap at 16, but it was raised after students protested.

"We're walking a fine line," Rogerson said. "Making those choices that accomodate the limitations of the budget with the needs of the students."

One of the students who led the fight against the 16-unit cap, senior Lia Kolderup-Lane, said it was a victory that it was raised to 18, but that students are still being shortchanged.

"Our classes are getting bigger, we're paying more and we're getting less," she said.

The university has to act, Rogerson said. Although the penalty for over-enrollment is always a possibility, it is rarely "enacted," he said. But it's more likely to be levied this year as CSU tries to make the case to legislators that it cannot fulfill its mission without more financial support.

"The general feeling is that it may well be (assessed) this year because the CSU obviously wants to send a message to the governor that we need the money we're requesting in next year's budget to educate the students," he said.

"It doesn't look good if a campus can show it can do without the extra money," he said.