• Fresno State officials say state funding no longer supports the number of local applicants who are qualified to attend under current standards.
• The university will raise admissions standards, including requiring the SAT or ACT, for those applying to attend in 2016-17.
• The move follows similar plans at other CSU campuses.
Here’s news no local aspiring college student wants to hear: It will soon be even tougher to land a spot at California State University, Fresno.
Fresno State is planning to raise its admissions standards to help offset huge spikes in qualified local applicants. And for the first time in the university’s history, officials say they’ll reject at least 400 Valley students who apply to attend in 2016-17 — students who would have qualified under current standards. It’s an unprecedented move forced by continued budget tightening, officials say.
The university has an even more sobering warning for non-local students: If you’re from outside the central San Joaquin Valley, you need not apply.
“There’s no chance” of being admitted, Bernard Vinovrski, associate vice president for enrollment, said in an interview this week. “The point is, we already have more applications from our local area than we can accommodate and we cannot exceed our enrollment target.”
Test scores important
For decades, students from Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties with at least a 3.0 grade-point average were automatically admitted to Fresno State. There was no need to take the ACT or SAT standardized tests.
But that will change starting with next year’s high school seniors — and students whose GPA is below 3.0 will need to score even better on the ACT or SAT than was required previously.
The details haven’t been formalized, but Vinovrski says Fresno State’s admissions index — a scorecard that uses a student’s GPA and test scores to determine their eligibility — will increase by at least 200 points.
The move is most easily explained by a flood of highly qualified applicants. University estimates show a 4% to 6% increase each year for the past six years. A projected 20,500 first-time freshmen applicants who apply next fall are expected to compete for just 3,200 seats.
As the stack of applications has surged upward, student retention rates have also grown, Vinovrski says. And even though state funding for Fresno State is expected to grow this year by about 1.5%, the university is still recovering from deep recession-era budget carving. Across all the CSUs, this year’s proposed budget is still $100 million short of what the CSUs were allocated before the recession, said Eric Forbes, CSU assistant vice chancellor for student academic support. The CSU system suggested a $217 million increase this year, Forbes said, about $100 million more than Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal.
Fresno State officials say the university’s portion of the boost is so small it will easily be offset by other costs, like educating increasing numbers of students who choose to stay enrolled instead of transferring or dropping out.
Officials identified the conundrum a few years ago. Around that time they began turning away thousands of non-local students, that the university simply couldn’t afford to enroll. For the fall 2015 admission class, 5,000 qualified non-local students were denied admission.
The crunch will now begin squeezing out local applicants, who will be ranked and then admitted based on grades and test scores, Vinovrski said.
“The message we have to the counselors and to the students is, it’s going to be really important they really work extra hard and do even better, have stronger grades, take more challenging classes,” he said.
No cause for panic
Top-performing students shouldn’t be alarmed.
At University High, a competitive charter school located on the Fresno State campus, counselor Geni Bird can’t remember any students being denied admission to Fresno State in recent years. Nearly 30% of recent graduates enroll there, she said.
Bird attributes student success to the school’s laser-focus on college and test preparation.
For example, all students are required to take the practice SAT three times before they apply to college. The school offers free online test preparation classes for teens who want it, and requires all students to take extra years of certain core classes.
“Our graduation requirements exceed everything the CSU wants so our kids are usually more than qualified,” she said.
Even so, current University High students say they’re not banking on past trends.
Seventeen-year-old Destinee Rodriguez is a junior with a 2.9 GPA, a score she once thought would be good enough to secure admission. She wants to be a deaf and special education teacher and was attracted to Fresno State’s deaf education program.
“Originally I was only planning to apply to Fresno State because I felt like I was almost guaranteed to get in because my grades were pretty good,” she said. “But now that the (requirements have) changed it makes it more difficult … I feel like it’s a lot of pressure to try and make sure I do exceptionally well on my test so I can get in.”
Local schools respond
Local education leaders say schools may need to make changes to keep students competitive.
Luis Chavez, a Fresno Unified School District trustee, said, “If the rigor of the entrance requirements is going to increase then at Fresno Unified our curriculum needs to reflect those entrance requirements.” Chavez said he’s currently pressuring district administrators to more closely track student applications and admissions to college. He wants to know how many students feel they’re qualified to get in, how many are actually accepted, and what percentage end up enrolling.
Others say they’re upset Fresno State officials aren’t taking a harder line on the university’s funding needs — like demanding lawmakers chip in more money for higher education.
“It’s the wrong mindset to just say our only option is to cut and to limit access,” said Diane Blair, Fresno State communications professor and Fresno chapter president of the California Faculty Association. “The demand for college-educated workers has grown, but we’re not keeping pace with that. That’s a long-term threat.”
For some, the move is just a sign of the times. A majority of the CSU System’s 23 campuses already have some type of higher admissions standards — next year, Fresno State and CSU Northridge will be added to the list.
The decision to boost requirements at Northridge mirrors Fresno State’s changes, said Harry Hellenbrand, provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
Northridge has seen a 10% increase in transfer and regular applications each year for the past several years, Hellenbrand said.
Without more state funding, Hellenbrand said, at least 1,500 qualified applicants will be turned away during the next admissions cycle.
“The campus has been committed to access for a number of years and effectively what we’re doing in the state of California is closing down access to students who are qualified,” he said. “That’s rubbing people the wrong way.”