Legislature rejects unit cap proposal for CSU, UC

To the relief of some groups, the California State Legislature rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to implement a unit cap for Cal State University and University of California students.

However, the cap could be included in the May revise, according to Meredith Vivian, director of government relations at the California State Student Association.

According to Brown’s budget proposal released in January California’s higher education system needs improvement in funding as well as its transfer and completion rates. Brown’s budget proposal allocates increased funding to the CSU system with one of his goals being to increase graduation rates.

The unit cap policy proposes that for the first two years of its implementation, students in CSUs may take up to a total of 180 units, equivalent to about 150 percent of the units required to complete most degrees. The years following, the cap would drop to 150 units, the equivalent to five years of being a full-time student, Vivian said.

According to Brown’s proposal, only 16 percent of CSU students are completing their degree within four years.

Should the proposed policy go into effect, a student who surpasses the unit cap would be responsible for covering the full cost of tuition.

“We all would go to school subsidized. Even if you’re paying the full cost of tuition at CSU, about $5,400, there’s another half of that being paid for by the state,” Vivian said. “So the real cost of tuition is about $11,000.”

Cal State Long Beach Provost Donald Para said that the discussion of Brown’s proposed unit cap is about access, and the longer a student stays on campus, the more likely that student is taking a spot from another.

“When you get 88,000 applications for admission, we’re only going to see 9,000 of those students next year, maybe 4,500 [undergraduates] and 4,500 transfer students,” Para said.

The proposed unit cap would affect only about 2 percent of CSU students, or 10,000 students of a 420,000 CSU student population, according to Vivian.

In comparison to other CSUs, CSULB fairs poorly in four-year graduation rates and above average in six-year graduation rates, according to Para.

Para said the concern is three-fold: first, the longer a student stays on campus, the less space there is for other students; second, the longer a student takes to graduate, the longer that student takes to get to graduate school and on to a career; and lastly, those students are paying money instead of earning it.

“The current [unit cap] proposal doesn’t provide a lot of information as to why this is the correct policy to do that,” Vivian said. “Our concern is that the CSU serves a lot of non-traditional students.”

Some non-traditional students – or students older than 30 years old – have children, families or full-time jobs, or they have left college and are returning after accruing a high unit count, according to Vivian.

Vivian said an alternative could be trying to implement the unit cap at a system-wide level or even a campus level.

“Hopefully we won’t see it again, but if it is still in [the proposal] we’ll go back out to the Legislature and educate them as to why we don’t think this is the appropriate policy,” Vivian said.

The Associated Students Inc. Senate also passed a resolution in March against Brown’s unit cap proposal, and ASI executives personally delivered the resolution to Brown at the CSU Board of Trustee’s March meeting.

“The Legislature rejecting the policy was a clear indication that students’ voices are being heard, contrary to popular belief,” said Jeanice Warden, principle consultant of Assembly Committee on Higher Education.

The May revise is expected to be presented within the week of May 12.

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