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Student demand keeps on building at California State University, but the overcrowded system doesn’t have the money to increase enrollment. And the only answer for most of the system’s 23 campuses may be to increase selectivity, which can hurt less academically prepared students who live near those universities.

San Jose State University’s president, Mohammad Qayoumi, on Tuesday announced that the university would no longer guarantee admission to students from surrounding Santa Clara County who meet the system’s basic requirements.

Adding new competitive measures for local students wasn’t an easy call for Qayoumi and the university, which had withdrawn the proposal earlier this year, and held packed public hearings on the admissions shift in March. But most observers agree that the university’s leaders hands were tied, and that they had probably held the line on the admissions guarantee as long as possible.

Qayoumi was clear about who he feels is to blame.

“This situation is caused by the failure of our elected officials in Sacramento to adequately fund the CSU in general and SJSU in particular,” he said in a written statement. “We Californians have failed to make the hard but important decisions to invest in the future of our youth.”

Other California State campuses are wrestling with similar problems, but those challenges are not evenly distributed.

“We’re trying to handle it the same for all 23 campuses,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, a system spokesman. “But the demand isn’t the same at each of these campuses.”

Higher education has its own lingo in California, and the term of art for the process that enables more selective admissions is “impaction,” which is as painful as it sounds for a system built on access for local students, large percentages of whom are members of minority groups and lower-income. Historically, the system has admitted all in-state applicants who are in the top third of their high school classes, based on grades and test scores.

At many of the more popular campuses, students from nearby high schools get preference with a lower admissions bar. But if a campus declares that it is impacted (meaning that the university has more students than it has state funds to support) it can place new requirements for specific majors or academic programs, which can be applied to the local admissions area.

In 2008, only six California State campuses declared that they were impacted. A year later, that number doubled; it has now risen to 16 campuses. San Jose State has joined three other campuses -- Fullerton, San Diego and San Luis Obispo -- to declare that all majors are overcrowded.

The Long Beach campus is also holding hearings to declare impacted status across all majors and make minor changes to its local admissions guarantee, thanks in part to the whopping 76,600 applications the university received last year.

As with San Jose State, university leaders at Long Beach have long pushed to preserve student access for hometown students. They certainly have the demand: the city’s K-12 system enrolls 90,000 students, said F. King Alexander, the university’s president.

“We can’t keep packing them into classrooms and programs,” Alexander said. “It’s becoming harder and harder.”

State support for the system, which serves 427,000 students, has been slashed by roughly $1 billion over four years. And another $200 million cut looms this year unless voters pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax plan. The money woes have led to what the system’s leaders call “terrible choices,” like faculty and staff job reductions, limited class offerings and, increasingly, more selective admissions.

The budget and enrollment crunch has rippled across all of California’s public institutions. The University of California system requires that in-state applicants be at least in the top 9 percent of high school graduates, and those that can’t get in now face a more complex and often competitive application process at Cal State.

The crisis is even worse for the state’s community college system, which will turn away an estimated 200,000 students this year due to slashed funding.

Last month Cal State announced that it would limit new enrollment for next spring (most new students arrive in the fall) to a few hundred transfers at eight campuses, which aren’t dealing with the same deluge of demand as their fully-impacted peers.

Last year Cal State campuses received 666,000 applications from 259,000 potential students (who often apply to multiple campuses), a 9 percent increase in total applications.

Impaction and public hearings have drummed up plenty of angst in the state, some of which could actually help Cal State as voters consider the tax plan. State lawmakers may also feel the sting, as their constituents complain about students who are shut out of local campuses.

“This is wrong and unjust and it's a big step backwards in the efforts of eliminating the existing educational gap,” said a speaker at one San Jose State public hearing, according to a transcript, adding that the proposal would have the biggest impact on “low income families, and in this case, the Latino community living in the shadows of San Jose State."

The University Next Door

High school graduates in California face a complex process, and often daunting odds, when they apply to Cal State campuses, which have varying admissions criteria. Deciphering how “eligibility index” requirements work has gotten trickier as impaction spreads.

At impacted campuses, more stringent admissions requirements are added to overcrowded majors, but those generally affect only those applicants from outside defined local admissions areas. San Jose State, for example, began adding requirements for applicants from outside Santa Clara County in 2009.

But if the decision Qayoumi announced Tuesday is approved by the system’s chancellor and Board of Trustees, applicants from inside the county would also have to jump through extra admissions hoops.

This year the proposed new requirements would have nixed applications of 1,400 potential students from the county (not all of whom would have enrolled if admitted), said a campus spokeswoman, including graduates from local high schools and transfer students from nearby community colleges.

San Jose State will continue to give admissions preference to local applicants in the undeclared major category, but even those applicants will not have guaranteed access. Specific majors will continue to have a variety of admissions criteria, and are often more selective than the "catch-all" undeclared category.

Long Beach currently includes nine nearby K-12 districts and four community colleges in its local preference zone. The university plans to declare that all of its majors are overcrowded, and has begun holding public hearings on the proposal, as required by a new state law.

The new admissions requirements at Long Beach would not affect local applicants, for the most part. But Alexander said the university needed to make small tweaks to keep its local guarantee viable.

Applicants from within the defined local boundary will now need to “meet minimum criteria to have at least a reasonable chance of degree completion,” according to university officials. Those that don’t “will be redirected to a learning community at Long Beach City College aimed at supporting later transfer.”

An estimated 70 to 90 local applicants would be directed to enroll in an existing partnership with Long Beach City College, Alexander said, which is a relatively small number for a university with a total enrollment of 35,000.

San Jose State announced the creation of a similar program today, called “Spartan Pathways,” which will include at least 100 slots for local applicants who do not meet new minimum admissions criteria.

An easing of the budget crisis, however, would allow San Jose State and Long Beach to open their doors to all local applicants, said presidents of both universities.

“If the Legislature cared about access and would fund it, we’d provide it,” Alexander said.

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