SF State's College of Extended Learning raises questions about privatization

As contract negotiations between the California Faculty Association and the California State University drag into the 22nd month and teachers have called into question the direction the system is heading, one word continues to strike a chord with students: privatization.

In recent years, as the cost of tuition has increased at an exponential rate, many classes, including all summer school options, have been pushed into the College of Extended Learning, where students pay much more per unit than during a regular fall or summer semester. CFA representatives say this is a result of a distinct shift in the philosophy behind the public education model in the state.

“The idea was that no matter who you are, if you want a shot at a secondary education, you could get it, and that is disappearing. People come in and try to turn it into something based on a profit model,” said Alice Sunshine, communications director for the CFA. “Lots of businesses do good things, but also things that don’t serve everyone. The CSU has a mindset of ‘if you can afford it you can have it. If you can’t, you can’t.’”

According to Sunshine, this mindset of privatization goes against California’s Master Plan for Higher Education and is creating a class division between those who can afford an education and who cannot.

CSU spokesman Erik Fallis, however, said that without moving these optional classes to Extended Learning, the CSU would not be able to offer them at all. “If we did not offer classes through extended education, there’d be a challenge to offer them at all. So if we weren’t able to offer classes through extended education, you’d be talking about not giving students those classes,” Fallis said.

Some faculty members said the administration is using this model as a way to make money against the best interests of students and faculty, and are protesting the moves. “It’s a way to make money in the face of a budget crisis. We don’t want the chancellor to advocate on the backs of students. We have to fi ght. The Chancellor hasn’t,” said anthropology lecturer Sheila Tully.

Despite the system’s administrators assertions that years of budget crises have left them with few options to continue to offer classes despite hardhitting cuts, Sunshine feels that the CSU does have a choice.

“The administration wants to say ‘We have no choice, we just have to do this. But when you have a funding problem, priorities of what to spend money on is even more important. They are choosing to give 10 percent pay raises to executives. They say ‘it’s not that much in the scheme of things,’ but the dollar amount isn’t important, it’s the message,” Sunshine said.

The classes offered through The College of Extended Learning includes academic classes for specialized certificates and Open University, which includes summer school and the ability to take classes during regular session without formal SF State admission. The CEL does not receive state funding the same way regular session does, so the cost is higher.

According Linda Buckley, Interim Director of the College of Extending Learning, all CEL programs financially support themselves. “All of the expenses associated with offering classes in CEL must be covered by the fees charged. Expenses for classes offered in regular session are supported by both student fees and general fund support (state funds),” she said.

Buckley also said that money that exceeds the cost of instruction and program support are applied to the university. “Fees paid by CEL students cover all costs of instruction and program support (ex. classrooms, supplies, enrollment management). CEL does not get general fund support. Should the fee revenue exceed those expenses, the monies are applied to general university expenses,” Buckley said.

The CFA has not found that the university fails to benefit substantially from that spillover money. “Little of the profits (of College of Extended Learning) have made their way back into the regular university,” said a report by the CFA.

Faculty members who teach extended education make a set amount of money regardless of the number of students enrolled.

“If you’re teaching extended education, there is some difference than teaching regular session,” Fallis said. The current CSU contract offer would change this structure, increasing the minimum amount of students required for summer school classes, and decrease instructor pay for each student under that minimum.

According to Buckley, the faculty pay is reduced if the class is under-enrolled. “The pay scale is based on faculty rank, for example professor, associate professor, etc. Only if the CEL class enrollment is lower than budgeted—that is underenrolled—and the faculty member elects to go forward with offering the class, is the pay reduced. This decision would be made by the individual faculty member. Again, if enrollment is met, the pay scale is the same,” Buckley said.

This focus on the financial bottom line should not be, in the eyes of some, the bottom line for a public institution.

“What the public institution is doing is looking at what private institutions are charging and making the tuition cost as close to that as possible,” said Daniel Phil Gonzalez, associate professor of Asian American studies.

Fees for CEL classes can range from $230 to more than $600 per unit, depending on the course.

“The average undergraduate annual tuition for Extended Education was 51 percent higher than the average annual fees for the CSU in 2010,” states a recent report from the CFA.

Financial aid does not completely cover the cost of extended learning, as loans and federal grants are the only type of financial coverage offered. California Cal Grants and State University Grants are excluded from paying for CEL classes.

Cassandra Florez, a sophomore studying theatre, said she almost took a summer school class, but couldn’t afford the cost. “I get financial aid and I was going to end up paying $298 on my own because financial aid only covers two units. Trying to get the class during the school year was really hard,” she said.

But for now, with a potential $200 million trigger cut looming at the end of the year if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax proposals are not approved by voters, offering classes in this way may be the only option, according to Fallis.

“The whole reason we have to do summer school in self-support is because we have limited state dollars,” he said. “The options are to offer classes in self-support or not offering them at all.”

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