CSUs to make exceptions to keep special programs alive

The California State University system is planning to prioritize its enrollment by setting aside enrollment slots for athletes, ROTC, musicians and other special-skills students this fall. The decision is being made amidst plans to cut enrollment in the system by 40,000 students next year.

A $564-million budget cut is affecting the CSU campuses this fiscal year. One of the main factors in the decision to prioritize enrollment was to ensure that, despite the budget constraints, various programs in the CSU, such as athletics, engineering and orchestra, are filled.

“If you’re going to have an orchestra, you need to be able to enroll all the students to get a full band,” said CSU Director of Enrollment Management Services Jim Blackburn.

The CSU system is preparing to increase the number of academic exceptions in order to ensure these decisions, much to the disagreement of some students.

“If they don’t have their grades up to snuff, they shouldn’t get special treatment,” said Amanda Sarabia, a sophomore sociology major. “Just because they’re a great athlete doesn’t mean they get a great education.”

The measure to expand exceptions goes against the suggestion to crack down on the qualifications requirement for the CSU made at the CSU board of trustees meeting last month, along with other means of reducing enrollment.

Currently, applications to the CSU are at record high. From Oct. 1 to Nov. 30, the CSU received more than 609,000 undergraduate applications, according to a CSU press release. Applications submitted during this priority application period increased from last year by 28 percent.

“We have manual exception forms for the campus, but our authority to use them has been sharply cut,” said David Dowell, Cal State Long Beach vice provost and director of strategic planning. “We only occasionally allow an exception, and that’s if the student has a good chance for success. In a given year, we only make about 10 to 15 exceptions.”

At this time CSULB will not be setting aside additional slots for special skills students, according to Dowell.

Any exceptions made for entrance into the CSU are normally for special skills or talents students who do not meet the requirements to enroll in the CSU system, usually for academic reasons.

In order to receive an exception, a student needs to find or be found by an advocate, usually a coach or a director of an academic program, who is willing to plead the student’s case and vouch for them, Blackburn said.

He also said that most of the exceptions will need to make a case that “supports and ensures the completion of academic challenges,” using oboe players as an example.

“Oboe players are rare but the whole orchestra tunes to them; they’re essential,” Blackburn said.

Some students do not agree with allowing exceptions.

“I know some students have exceptional talent,” said Katherine Jena, a sophomore environmental studies major, “but in theory, we should all be held to the same standard.”

What qualifies as a talent regarded for special exception goes beyond athletics and musicians. Some schools are making unique exceptions for non-mainstream majors, such as agriculture.

Blackburn said he does not expect that students might gravitate more toward these majors and interests in order to ensure enrollment.

While most students disapprove of the exceptions made for special skills students, some see a potential benefit in allowing a few exceptions.

“If the activities that these people do bring in revenue, then there should be a special guideline,” said Phillip Nguyen, a computer engineering graduate student. “This guideline needs to be more clearly defined on what it means to be a qualifying student. If athletes are the exception for revenue purposes, that’s fine.” 


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