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Could CA's Higher Ed Budget Woes Benefit CMC?

September 28, 2010

Adam Griffith
Could CA's Higher Ed Budget Woes Benefit CMC?

California is in financial trouble.  For the past twenty-three years, the California state legislature has failed to produce a budget on time, and this year has been no different. Partisan bickering and limitations placed upon the budgeting process have created a caustic environment in Sacramento, and in light of the grim economic climate, it's tough to see things getting better soon.

To make a long story short, the statehouse is bogged with institutional and political obstacles that make it nearly impossible to pass a functional budget on time. Chief among them is the requirement for a two-thirds majority in both houses to pass a budget.  This gives the usually powerless Republican minority a powerful check over the just shy of two-thirds Democrat majority.  The budget process is often Republicans' only opportunity to significantly contribute to state legislation.  Instead of compromising and meeting the statutory deadline, the two sides gridlock and force executive agencies to rely on temporary stopgap measures, such as employee furloughs, so the state doesn't run out of cash.

One of these “solutions” has been to dramatically slash the budgets of California’s state universities.. In order to accommodate losses in federal funding, the CSU system accepted 30,000 fewer students than last year this fall, according to Robert Turnage of the CSU’s Board of Trustees.  The UC Board of Regents recently decided to accept 2,300 fewer students. At many state schools, canceled classes and shrinking faculties are making it difficult for students to get the credits they need to graduate on time.

Ironically, what’s bad for California’s public universities might not be so bad for Claremont McKenna. Because CMC primarily obtains its funding from tuition and its generous alumni base, budget cuts at the state level have had a limited impact on its endowment. Plus, as large state schools take fewer students each year, the applicant pool to CMC increases. Last year, the administration received the second largest number of applications in the history of the college, surpassed only by the year before.  There's also evidence that Californian students may be choosing CMC over local public competitors UC Berkeley and UCLA, among others. Associate Dean of Admission Adam Miller told the Forum, "fluctuations in yield are important to note.  CMC's yield on students from California who were offered admission went up by about 10% this past spring. That is a big one-year increase."  However, Miller cautions readers not to jump to conclusions, as "establishing causality in these situations is difficult" and there may be other influencing factors.

If interest in CMC is increasing in part because public universities continue to lose funding, we are certainly not alone.  As the Fresno Bee reports, many other California private colleges have seen similar increases in enrollment figures over the past two years, likely as a result of students choosing private options over state schools in response to devastating budget cuts.  Some see it as an opportunity for advancement.  As Jonathan Brown of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities explained to the LA Times, "There is a mix of real concern for our friends in the public sector and a recognition that this is a time when we ought to be looking strategically at what we can do."

An increased number of applicants and attendees offers real benefits to CMC. A larger applicant pool results in more competition and a stronger freshman class, while a larger yield rate, at least in California, indicates that more of those excellent students admitted by the administration will actually attend.

California’s budget crisis is certainly not good overall for anyone, especially not students who hope there might be some jobs left when they graduate from college. Still, the predicament facing California’s institutes of higher education presents CMC with an interesting opportunity to strengthen an already phenomenal student body.

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