The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Bigger classes, fewer professors at Sacramento State

Published: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 2:09 pm

Classes keep getting bigger at Sacramento State, the teaching corps keeps getting smaller, and the time to a degree for students keeps getting longer, new figures from the university show.

Like other public colleges, California State University, Sacramento, has been affected by budget cuts because of the economic downturn. State appropriations to the school's general operating fund fell by roughly $50 million, or 30 percent, to $107 million between 2008 and 2012.

Unprecedented student fee increases backfilled much of that drop, and Proposition 30, a tax measure passed in November, will likely provide more help soon.

But the path back to normal will be long and steep.

"Even if we do get some more funding, we don't think it will be back to 2008 levels," said CSUS spokeswoman Kim Nava.

The new figures from the university show the continued impact of budget cuts, including:

• A nearly 25 percent drop in the number of full-time equivalent faculty between 2008 and 2012.

• A 20 percent increase in class size over that same period.

• A 7 percent four-year graduation rate, meaning one of every 14 freshmen who started school in 2008 got a degree in 2012.

Faculty and students express frustration at those trends, which have become more pronounced during each of the past four years, though many also said they are determined to work through them.

"For a class where we take 35 students, it's normal for us to have 20 to 30 students more that want to get in," said Kevin Wehr, an assistant professor of sociology and chairman of the CSUS chapter of the California Faculty Association. The university encourages professors to let in an extra student or two if they are close to graduation and need the course.

The problem, Wehr contends, is that there simply aren't enough professors. CSUS employed about 860 full-time-equivalent faculty members in 2012, down from 1,125 just four years prior.

CSUS isn't laying teachers off, but it's not replacing many faculty members who leave. And lots of discouraged professors are leaving, Wehr said.

"We have qualified teachers – excellent faculty – who are leaving the university," Wehr said. "Our mission is to educate the people of California. We are less and less able to do that."

Students feel the impact of the changes when they pay increased tuition, when they sit in crowded classrooms and when they can't find space in required courses. Tuition doubled between 2008 and 2012 to $5,472. The average size of lower-division classes grew from 31 in 2008 to 38 in 2012.

"Classes have gotten a little bigger," said Amber Mitchell, a junior biology major who is taking a class with roughly 100 other students. "My first year – it wasn't a problem."

Carmen Zamora, a freshman studying nutrition, said she worries about holding up class when she asks a question in one of the two courses she takes that have 80 other students in them.

"If it's a smaller class, you just have more courage," she said.

Both Mitchell and Zamora said they will adapt to the changes. They each plan to take summer courses to stay on track for graduation, and, if they are behind during the semester, they seek out professors during office hours.

Nava, the university spokesman, said CSUS is taking several steps to ease pressure on students and faculty.

Academic departments should soon conform to a standard of 120 credit hours for a degree; currently, some degrees require more credit than that. The Faculty Senate is working on proposals that could streamline and decrease general education requirements. And the college is placing extra focus on helping students at high risk of dropping out.

The university will have a better idea of what more needs to be done after the Legislature passes a budget. CSUS officials expect a modest bump in funding due to Proposition 30.

"That doesn't make us whole again," Nava said, "but it will help."

Call The Bee's Phillip Reese, (916) 321-1137.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Phillip Reese



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