The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    Budget deficit and enrollment down at SSU, but officials remain optimistic


    SSU is suffering from a $9.2 million deficit as a result of a trend of declining enrollment that began after enrollment peaked in 2015. While the University is not alone in its struggle to attract greater numbers of incoming students, with Humboldt and San Francisco State Universities also experiencing low enrollment, SSU is certainly being hit the hardest. 

    Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of schools in the California State University system saw increases in enrollment, according to EdSource, a journalism group focused on California education. Sonoma State University was not among those, and the recent budget cuts are not helping the situation either.

    Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom siphoned away CSU funding in order to fund efforts to offset the effects of the pandemic, a decision made on behalf of the state but to the detriment of state universities. The budget cuts, in combination with pandemic-related losses, such as drops in campus populations as students moved home for online learning, struck a blow to Sonoma State and its sister schools.

    Now, Newsom has promised to restore $299 million to the CSU budget, which Julia Gonzalez, SSU spokesperson and assistant vice president of student affairs, called “welcome news.”

    “The Governor’s announcement to restore $299 million in budget cuts to the CSU…will help the campus make progress on reducing our budgetary shortfall,” Gonzalez said. “It will, however, not entirely repair our current structural deficit, which is a challenge the campus needs to face for the next several years as enrollment rates recover and we continue to align the expenditure of resources with the University’s strategic plan and priorities.”

    It seems as though restoration of the CSU budget may not be enough to solve SSU’s budgetary issues, especially those related to enrollment. Some people may ask why enrollment is down in the first place.

    When asked this question, Gonzalez responded that there is “a combination of factors” responsible for the issue.

    “One of the main underlying factors is the distance from home. For the CSU, 67% of students come from within a 50-mile radius. Sonoma State is a bit different at only 41%,” Gonzalez said. “Many of our students come from farther away, and that has made the last few years difficult. Across the country, students are staying closer to home, so campuses that have traditionally attracted students from farther away are now seeing fewer students go more than 150 miles from home. That tendency to stay closer to home was increased exponentially by the pandemic.”

    Speculation that SSU could have earned itself a poor reputation due to persistent wildfires, or that marketing for the University could be lackluster, is also unfounded, according to Gonzalez.

    “Sonoma State has a great reputation,” she said, “We are #1 among the 23 CSU campus systems in two-year transfer graduation rates and #4 in four-year first-time first-year graduation rates. Sonoma State also has the #1 rated student housing in the CSU. We have a lot to offer students, but the changes in enrollment are really a shift in college-going trends worsened by COVID.”

    Gonzalez continued to add that the university is employing new techniques to increase enrollment, focused on local populations in order to attract students from the surrounding areas.

    “Our new enrollment strategies, geared more towards students in our immediate service region, are already helping, and demand is surpassing expectations in certain areas. In looking at our applications for Fall 2021, Sonoma State already has the highest number of transfer admitted students in the last seven years,” Gonzalez stated.

      With those words of optimism, it seems university officials believe the enrollment situation may improve soon. 

    As for what can be done by the state to alleviate present concerns, Gonzalez suggested, “Support from the Governor and the legislature to restore state funding and invest in the CSU, especially in Graduation Initiative 2025 and Basic Needs categories, would allow the CSU and Sonoma State to continue our work on student success and retention and further our progress on graduation initiative targets.”

    The university also hopes that current students can play a role in fostering growth for SSU. 

    “Students can help to increase enrollment by talking about their positive experiences to friends, former high school teachers and guidance counselors, and others who may be looking for a smaller college with great majors and lots of support for student success,” Gonzalez said.

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