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Colleges cut back without hoped-for funds

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California’s budget crisis has meant huge cuts for public schools. Cal Poly is facing an almost $3 million drop in its operating budget in the fall, on top of about $25 million in cuts since 2005.

Larry Kelley, vice president for administration and finance, said $2.6 million is coming directly out of budgeted academic instruction and support funds. Cal Poly Spokesperson Stacia Momburg said it’s not yet clear what kind of budget the school will be working with in the fall, but said, “Higher education is in a world of hurt.”

The recently passed state budget included some funds contingent on hoped-for federal stimulus dollars: $50 million each for the CSU and UC systems. The state didn’t actually have the money to give, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized the gap with the idea that it would eventually fill in. California lawmakers hoped to receive $10 billion total in stimulus funds, but didn’t get quite that much. The actual amount was about $1.8 billion less, leaving the gap unfilled and the state’s public colleges to deal without the conditional money. Cal Poly stood to get $2.6 million for the 2009/2010 school year, but those dollars won’t materialize—and that’s on top of already expected cuts.

Students will likely feel the pain as cuts translate to fewer classes and academic resources, as well as larger class sizes. Cal Poly administrators put many lecturers—although they wouldn’t say exactly how many—on notice that they may not have a job come September.

For now, it’s a wait-and-see game. Administrators are holding out for the outcome of proposition 1C, the May 19 ballot measure that would let the state borrow $5 billion against future lottery proceeds. They’re also waiting for the CSU chancellor to implement fee increases, recently approved by Cal Poly students. Final approval, however, will likely come after the murky budget situation clears up. Kelley said the new student fees were worth $6.9 million a year and meant to pay for more teachers and classes.

“What it would permit us to do,” he said, “is have additional sections, which would allow students to progress toward their degrees in a predictable manner.”

Cal Poly senior Wes Carlson said he hasn’t had much trouble getting into classes since he started taking upper-division courses, which are less impacted, but said if classes are cut, he could have problems.

“It’s been easy to get into the harder classes,” Carlson said, “but they offer them less frequently.

“If you run into the problem that class options are reduced,’ he went on, “then that can really screw up your plans if you want to graduate in four years.”

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