On the cover North Coast Journal

Aug. 18, 2005


PLEASE ENTER HERE: As the school year begins, HSU's enrollment crisis deepens -- photo of HSU's new entryway

PLEASE ENTER HERE: As the school year begins, HSU's enrollment crisis deepens
On the cover: Finishing touches on new entrance gate to Humboldt State University,
Photo by Bob Doran.



THE INTERSECTION OF LK WOOD AND 14TH Street was never one of Arcata's main points of interest. For years, just a small, wooden-plank sign with gold letters, an example of the '70s-era architecture sprinkled across campus, marked the entrance to Humboldt State University. Passers-by might hardly have noticed.

But now, as the 2005-06 school year begins, new HSU freshmen who happen to walk past will sure as hell know where they will be going to school.Photo of Humboldt State University's new entrance gate under construction

Rising from one side of the formerly nondescript corner is a spanking new, 30-foot-tall, three-part stucco gateway. Two maroon-topped towers, crafted in the mission-style of the school's signature building, Founder's Hall, border the north and south lanes of LK Wood. Curved, tan-colored walls carry bold bronze letters that proudly announce "Humboldt State University." In the median, another, smaller tower presents a huge bronze university seal with an image of Founder's Hall in its center.Photo of Humboldt State University's building "Founder's Hall"

[Photo above: New stucco gateway to HSU at the intersection of LK Wood
and 14th streets in Arcata. Photo at right: HSU Founder's Hall.]

This instant landmark, part of a comprehensive Campus Wayfinding and Signage program that aims to reshape HSU's image, began to take shape soon after students left for summer vacation. Construction workers labored overtime during the last few weeks to meet their deadline -- the first day of the fall semester. In total, the project is expected to cost around $350,000.

Why the rush, at such great expense? Perhaps because HSU administrators needed to assure themselves, and everyone else, that they are at least doing something to address a looming crisis that could threaten the very future of the institution.

HSU is in a double bind. It faces pressure from the California State University system to increase enrollment -- to attract and retain more students -- in order to better serve California's booming population. The university would like to be able to spend money to recruit students and keep them once they get here.

But money is tight. The CSU system gives Humboldt State a certain amount of money each year for every student it serves. But enrollment has been static, at best, for many years. All the while, expenses like salaries, health insurance and energy costs have been steadily increasing.

HSU needs to spend money to make money, but it isn't making enough to spend.

At the same time, the CSU is starting to demand results. Last year, for the first time, HSU had to return $444,000 to the CSU after failing to meet its enrollment target. (It wasn't alone: Not one of the 23 CSU campuses met its enrollment target last year, returning $15.5 million total to the CSU). In the past, such shortfalls were forgiven; the schools kept the extra money.

Photo -- James Gibbons leads prospective Humboldt State University students on a campus tourThis year, the numbers are even worse; they are actually headed in the other direction. On Monday, an HSU spokesperson confirmed that the university would have only the equivalent of 6,864 full-time students, down 166 students from the previous year and devastatingly short of the CSU's target of 7,389.

The particulars of HSU's $95 million budget for the 2005-06 school year are still tentative. Several campus officials said last week that the budget will likely not be finalized until October. But reading the initial draft, one thing becomes clear. The university is going to be hard-pressed to strike a balance between funding an enrollment drive and providing for current students. As it stands, any extra money that goes to recruiting must come from elsewhere -- from the budgets of academic departments, maintenance crews and other support staff.

[Photo a left:James Gibbons leads prospective students on a campus tour.]

And the enrollment drive -- guided by a Strategic Enrollment Committee that HSU President Rollin Richmond organized last fall -- is extremely ambitious. HSU plans to nearly double the size of its student body in 35 years; the target headcount is 12,000 students by the year 2040. The university hopes to see a significant increase in enrollment as early as fall 2006, when the target is 7,450 full-time-equivalent students. The school spent $80,000 to hire college enrollment consultants Noel-Levitz last fall to reshape the school's image to attract and retain more students.

But offices key to enrollment also say that they are not getting enough money in the new budget to get the job done. Others on campus say that critical aspects of the drive -- such as attracting more minority students, long a campus goal -- are falling by the wayside.


When, in late July, Humboldt State posted its preliminary budget for the upcoming academic year on its web site, administrators throughout the university were eager to understand what the implications were for their departments. No one more so, perhaps, than those whose offices are on the front lines of the enrollment battle.

In a letter accompanying the budget, the university was quick to note that it had received from the CSU a $5.8 million increase to its nearly $90 million base budget. However, it noted later, subtracting increases to mandatory expenses like health benefits, energy costs and union-negotiated salary raises, HSU would really only have $133,500 in extra discretionary funds.

The university budget committee, which advises President Richmond on budget matters, recommended that HSU give additional funding, totaling about $3 million, to several specific programs, including several offices involved in the enrollment drive, the letter said. To fund them, HSU would have to reallocate almost $3 million from within the existing budget, cutting from other departments.

But as the budget began to take shape, most of the programs covered under the $3 million in "urgent recommendations" from the budget committee found out that they would not be receiving as much as they had asked for, or as much as the budget committee had recommended.

The Office of Enrollment Management, which includes the Financial Aid, Admissions and Registrar's offices, will receive almost $200,000 less than it requested for additional funding to its base budget for 2005-06. (Admissions is in charge of recruiting first-time and transfer students. The Registrar's Office is responsible for handling students who have been accepted at HSU.)

Admissions Director Scott Hagg said the cut will make it difficult to implement any of the recommended changes to his office made by the HSU's consultants, Noel-Levitz, this year.

University Advancement, the donations and fundraising arm of HSU, will receive about $63,000 less than it requested, putting its budget at almost the same level as last year and leaving little room to grow as expected when it comes to enrollment.

Under Advancement's umbrella is Public Affairs, HSU's publicity office. Public Affairs' operating expenses budget (which excludes salaries) will take a cut from $8,000 last year to $6,000 this year -- a 20 percent decrease. The cut comes as the administration asks Public Affairs to play an integral role in enrollment through marketing and publicity. Interim Vice President of Advancement Burt Nordstrom said last week that HSU expects the office to switch from a news bureau model -- putting out press releases and communicating with reporters -- to one more focused on marketing in one to five years.

Public Affairs Senior Communication Officer Paul Mann said it would be tough to make the switch in view of the recent cut, though the possibility remains that the department could receive more funding in the fall, when the president reviews committee reports on which Noel-Levitz recommendations he should fund.

"Frankly, we were crippled at $8,000," Mann said. "So a cut just makes the situation worse."

Nordstrom said it remains to be seen whether Advancement will have funding enough to hire a vice president of marketing, as recommended by Noel-Levitz. With budget details still pending, Nordstrom said he "wouldn't even hazard a guess" as to when he will know if he can fill the position.Photo -- students on Humboldt State University's quad

Bare bones

Even as the university attempts to fully fund its enrollment/recruitment drive, departments charged with the educational experience of HSU's current student body are feeling the pinch.

The Office of Academic Affairs initially requested just over $2 million in extra funding this year; the money would be used to pay for lecturers, a new master's degree program in social work and a summer semester, among other things. In the end, the office received an increase of just $318,000.

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Rick Vrem said the slim budget will directly affect class availability and the number of lecturers HSU will be able to retain over the next year.

"It's going to be difficult to offer a sufficient number of classes to meet enrollment demands (in the spring)," Vrem said, "But we're going to try to offer a bare bones schedule."

If HSU has to cut bacPhoto of Jim Howard, dean of the College of Natural Resources, Humboldt State Universityk the number of classes it offers, students may not be able to make timely progress toward their degrees, Vrem said.

[Photo at left: Jim Howard, dean of the College of Natural Resources.]

The fate of HSU part-time instructors is also unclear, though Vrem said that for now, there will be no change in the status quo.

"For fall (2005), we'll have about the same level of instructors as we saw this past fall," Vrem said. "It is difficult to see what will happen in the spring."

Jim Howard, dean of the College of Natural Resources, said that he expects his budget to be meager.

"We're going to be scrambling to find money to hire enough part-time faculty to be able to offer the full range of courses that we'd like to offer," Howard said. "Everybody's hurting. That's pretty clear. But if the academic side isn't adequately supported then nothing else that we do matters much."

Of the five university divisions included in the HSU budget, the Office of Administrative Affairs was the only division to actually see its budget shrink from the previous year. The division, which manages the university's finances and its physical campus, lost $168,723.

University Budget Director Carol Terry said Plant Operations, the department that maintains university buildings and grounds, will most likely take the brunt of the cut. Other Administrative Affairs offices, such as Fiscal Affairs, cannot afford additional losses.

"Not only can they (Fiscal Affairs) not take a cut, but they need more people," Terry said.

With little funding left to scrape from the existing budget, Terry said she expects Richmond to allocate one-time funding this year to support enrollment. Where will it come from? Terry said it is a definite possibility that Richmond could take that money from the university reserves, HSU's savings account.

Richmond already dipped into the reserves once this year, Terry said, taking $383,000 "just to keep from cutting more than he had to."

According to Terry, the reserves totaled $1 million before Richmond made last year's withdrawal. Just two and a half years earlier, when Terry came to HSU, the university's reserves were empty. In Feb. '04, Terry helped create a new budget policy, which gave $1 million to the reserves up front, and committed to add about $30,000 each year, beginning this year, until the reserves reached a healthy $2 million. But with the budget tight as ever, Terry said HSU won't be able to add to the reserves this year, as planned. She hopes to begin adding to the reserves next year.

A missed opportunity?

But while crucial university functions are squeezed to the breaking point in an attempt to fund a marketing drive aimed at selling HSU to high school seniors, some are saying the campus seems strangely reticent in addressing perhaps the most crucial problem facing enrollment: the lack of a diverse student body.

California, alone amongst the United States, has a majority-minority population. No racial group accounts for as much as half of California's people. The Latino and Asian communities are booming. Yet Humboldt State is still overwhelmingly white, and the university has a difficult time attracting students of color.

HSU administrators acknowledge that this is a problem. In his convocation speech last year, Richmond identified diversity as "one of the most important aspects of our vision."

The 1997 HSU Strategic Plan, which was revised last fall, details the non-physical, administrative changes HSU plans to execute in the next 35 years, noting in plain language that "Humboldt State University will increase the diversity of our students, faculty, staff and curriculum."

Five years later, in 2002, President Richmond formed the Diversity Plan Steering Committee, charged with gathering commentary and feedback in order to draft a campus diversity plan.

Fast-forward another two years: In April 2004, HSU released a 26-page draft dubbed the Diversity Action Plan. The document outlines eight main goals and other detailed suggestions to increase diversity and foster a more tolerant social and institutional climate on campus.

Noel-Levitz's findings underscore the importance of diversity to the enrollment effort. The firm identified "limited appeal and access for students of color" as one of HSU's main weaknesses; it further urged in the Marketing and Recruitment Opportunities Analysis that the school should "Focus on diversity as a critical market segment."

But an informal group of six staff and faculty called the Staff of Color Collective (SOCC) is concerned that the university's commitment to diversity is superficial, lacking real action to make progress toward diversity.

In a private letter addressed to President Richmond and the chairs of the Strategic Enrollment Effort Advisory Committee, the group, which formed this spring, criticizes both parties for what it calls a narrow-minded decision-making process and lack of action in implementing steps toward a more diverse campus.

The letter, dated July 8, noted that the collective was disappointed with the process by which the Strategic Enrollment Committee was selected, and challenges "the efficacy of its input and recommendations."

"When the initial committee was convened, there were no faculty, staff or administrators of color invited to the table to partake in the discussions regarding student retention and enrollment," wrote the collective members, all of whom now sit on an enrollment advisory committee. "It was only through pressure that these communities were included we have tried to voice our opinions and present the realities that we and our students face so that the university can make the best possible action plan We feel our ideas are not truly accepted as a credible part of the overall conversation and as a result, feel that we were invited to the discussions only to be regarded as tokens. It is time that our input, experiences and knowledge be taken seriously if change and growth are to occur at the HSU campus."

"Unless people from underrepresented/marginalized communities are placed in positions called upon to make decisionshow can you expect different outcomes?"

The letter offers enrollment recommendations, including sections for recruitment, retention and campus culture, but remains harsh in its criticism of the strategic enrollment process. "It is obvious by the way the conversations have been narrowly formed and directed, that this university is not truly committed to bringing new and innovative strategies to the table."

The group also compares the large amount of data on diversity to the lack of action. It said that the problem of HSU's lack of diversity had been noted in many previous campus documents, dating back to 2001, but that the administration had yet to seriously follow through.

"The implementation of strategies requires the full support of leadership," the letter reads. "Until now the support for diversity has been mostly rhetoric without action."

Analysis paralysis

Earlier this year, a NoePhoto -- Guy-Alain Amoussou, director of international programs, Humboldt State Universityl-Levitz report noted that a recurring theme at HSU was "analysis paralysis." While there is a "desire to change," the report said, "little action takes place in order to change retention and graduation rates."

The report, like the SOCC, calls for action, and points out the similarities between the outcomes of past studies and those done by Noel-Levitz. "The (retention) plan developed during 2001 seemed to have great merit but was never implemented This plan was a typical plan that Noel-Levitz would have helped a university that had little or no planning initiatives create. It should be revisited for 2005 and beyond for implementation."

[Photo at left: Guy-Alain Amoussou, director of international programs.]

The SOCC is not alone in its skepticism. Guy-Alain Amoussou, director of international programs and associate professor in computer sciences, agrees that much of HSU's diversity effort is too much talk, not enough action.

"There is a lot of intent," Amoussou said. "But if good intentions are not followed by clear and well-defined step-by-step action, then nothing will happen in terms of improving diversity on campus."

Amoussou also noted that the university must not only provide recommendations like those in the Diversity Action Plan, but follow up to be sure they are actually implemented.

"If there is no test plan how can we credibly assess what we claim we want to implement to improve the campus diversity?" Amoussou said. "What is being planned to make sure that this Diversity Action Plan doesn't stay on the shelf?"

The Diversity Action Plan, which makes recommendations to be followed until 2009, has yet to be finalized. Director of Diversity and Compliance Services Helen Jones was out of town and unavailable to comment on when the finished plan will be published and how many of the plan's suggestions have been implemented so far.

Ethnic Studies Lecturer, EOP Advisor and SOCC Member Ryan Mann-Hamilton said he could think of only two of the plan's initiatives that have been carried out: Last year's administrative diversity training, and the formation of a Diversity Grant Funding Committee, which Mann-Hamilton sits on.

"As our administrators say, `Change is very slow to come to HSU,'" Mann-Hamilton said. "If it's slow to come it's only because they haven't implemented it. If it was something important to them they would have done so already."

The SOCC expects to have a series of meetings with Richmond over the coming semester, but, as the letter suggests, the group wants the next step to be action. Richmond was out of town and unavailable for comment, but Public Affairs Director Jane Rogers said he is very concerned with the group's letter and "really does want to take action."

In the meantime, the action that HSU has taken over the summer has met with mixed reviews. Nicknames for the new gateway abound: "Carl's Castles" (named after a key administrator), "Schulz's Folly" (after another), "The Golden Arches," "The Gun Turrets," etc. Reviews have been decidedly mixed. In these pages, one student has written that the gate's "Mission" architecture insults the Native American victims of Spanish colonialism. A local has decried it as a symbol of "LosAngelization."

The gateway was intended to better define the boundaries of Humboldt State, to underline that once someone crosses them she enters the sacred halls of academe. It remains to be seen if enough people will make that journey to keep the institution alive.



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