BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
California State University at Long Beach (CSULB) breathes vitality into the fabric of the area’s society and pumps money into the region’s economy. So said CSULB President F. King Alexander at a Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce luncheon last Thursday. The event, attended by about 40 people, took place at the Signal Hill Community Center.
While stressing CSULB’s importance to the region, Alexander warned that state budget cutbacks will significantly impact what CSULB will be able to accomplish the next few years.
“The state literally runs out of money at the end of this month,” he said. “We have been asked to tell the state how long we can survive without them paying any of the bills– salaries and everything.”
Alexander explained that CSULB monthly payroll for faculty and staff is $23 million. He added that the national economic slump is hurting institutions of higher learning throughout the United States, but the state’s colleges and universities are at a greater risk than schools in other states because of California’s financial crisis.
“We have 38,000 students,” he said. “Next year, because of state cutbacks, we have to cut our enrollment down to about 36,500. “We spend about $12,000 per student per year. Our students bring in about $3,200 in just fees per year, and the State of California normally gives us about $7,000 of that $9,000 difference.”
Alexander noted that many colleges and universities throughout the nation rely on out-of-state students– whose tuition is not subsidized by state revenues– for a significant portion of their budgets. “But only one percent of the entire California State University student population is comprised of out-of-state students,” he said. “Nobody serves its state better than what we do and, on our campus, we barely have any out-of-state students.” He added that no university in California charges less than CSULB and only three nationwide offer lower tuition rates. “The national public university average is about $6,500 per year,” he said. “You go to our campus and you are going to pay $3,264 a year.”
Alexander explained why CSULB representatives ask the federal government for more funding. “Our argument is quite simple,” he said. “We graduate 8,200 students every year out of a student body of 38,000,” he said.
He also mentioned that a recent survey assessed the mid-career earnings of graduates of virtually all large universities throughout the U.S. “Of 650 public universities in the United States, Cal State Long Beach graduates ranked 40th in average mid-career earnings,” he said. That’s pretty good.”
Alexander said the university aims to make the lives of students better and keep them on campus more. “We are breaking ground on January 30 on a new $75-million student recreation/wellness center that will be a state of the art educational and exercise facility for our students,” he said, stressing that the students themselves voted to raise their fees by $180 per year to finance the facility.
“We had a $110-million science building going up, but the state has put it along with 2,000 other projects on hold,” he said. “Approximately 200,000 workers have been laid off due to cessation of work on those projects.”
Alexander noted that the hoped-for federal economic stimulus package would do the exact opposite of what California is doing. He explained that while the federal program is aimed at putting more people to work, the state is making decisions that put people out of work. “My concern is that while the economic stimulus program coming out of Washington will provide new jobs, and new construction possibilities in other states, for us it simply might backfill what the state was supposed to do in the first place,” he said.
Alexander said CSULB is known as one of the most diverse campuses in the country, and its academic programs are emulated by many other colleges and universities. “We are gaining a lot of national recognition on what a university should be doing,” he said. “But we are not the cause of the public concern about tuition escalation.”
Alexander added that that many universities dedicate only a fraction of their faculty to the freshman class, CSULB stands out as one of the few schools that break from that norm. “All of our faculty teach freshmen,” he stressed. “Our freshmen and sophomores have full-time faculty teaching their classes.”
Because of that and the fact that its graduates do so well in their careers, Alexander said that he strongly believes that CSULB is the public university that the public wants. “The public just does not fully understand what we are doing,” he noted, explaining that CSULB contributes substantially to the local economy and also trains professionals to fill positions in the local private and public sectors.
“We do it with your help, support and guidance,” he said. “We get our students out in the field.” He explained that more than 10,000 CSULB students are active volunteers in various nonprofit organizations and public institutions.
“Not only do we keep the talent and investments that we put into our children right here in Long Beach, but we do a pretty good job of robbing other communities of their talent,” he said adding that having a big university is a major factor in making a city a desirable place to live.
“We are going to keep doing this, good or bad economy,” he said. “We are not going anywhere. With your help we are going to keep building our community, our schools and our local economy.”