May 9, 2005

Students get President's ear at town hall meeting

Students-only Town Hall Meeting video - May 3, 2005

Retention rates and campus radio were among the issues on students' minds at last week's students-only town hall meeting.

President Alexander Gonzalez and Vice President for Student Affairs Lori Varlotta called the meeting to gather student input. "This is a very important opportunity for us . . . to hear directly from students regarding your interests, concerns, ideas, plans and hopes for the future of your University," said Varlotta. "We want to give students the opportunity help shape the ideas, themes and topics that you think are most important."

Gonzalez opened by saying that the issues being addressed by the University's broad Destination 2010 initiative have been around many years "but had never really been put in one place." One topic already being addressed is physical improvements to the campus, including dealing with the issue he hears about the most-parking. Plans call for a new parking structure as well as a trolley system to link the campus with the 65th St. light rail station.

A second part is looking at academics. "The graduation rate is an issue on this campus and it's not all tied to the fact that students have to work. It's the availability of classes and the number of units required. How can we make things better," Gonzalez asked. "How can we help you succeed here and move on in a way that is going to be measurable and predictable?"

Gonzalez says his administration is looking at several issues including the number of units required for a major and the times and days classes are offered. "Most classes are offered between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Maybe we could start at eight in the morning and extend to 5 p.m. with a full schedule of classes."

A third aspect is opening the University to the broader community. "It's kind of isolating. Everyone knows Sacramento State is here," he said. "But most people don't know we have 28,000 students." In addition to providing needed student facilities, the Events Center portion of the Recreation, Wellness and Events Center will have about 8,000 seats. It will be used for campus activities such as graduation and basketball but also performances that will bring people onto campus and garner support.

Gonzalez said that by end of calendar year he hopes to have the initial $25 to $30 million needed to move on construction. He said that the best of all scenarios is breaking ground on the facility in January 2006.

A number of students asked about the University's commitment to increasing graduation and retention rates. "I have charged the provost and vice president for academic affairs to come up with a concerted plan that would involve each of the Colleges," Gonzalez said, stressing that the issue often plays out on the college level. For example, engineering majors have to take a lot more classes than some other students because of accreditation requirements. There can also be a lack of availability. If a student misses a class cycle it could mean another year or more before gradation.

Gonzalez also noted that the reason a student doesn't complete his or her degree may not necessarily be academics. "There has to be a reason for people to stay on campus," he said, reiterating his interest in having more students living on and around campus and more places for students to "hang out." "When you're a commuter campus . . . students get in their car, drive to campus, park, walk to class, walk to their car and leave. What we need to do is break that cycle. If you can't find place to study, you're not going to do it. If you can't hang out, you're not going to do it."

Varlotta said Student Affairs is strengthening its programs for orientation and advisement, which national studies show boost retention and shorten time to graduation. Orientation for first-time freshmen will be mandatory, Varlotta said, and focus on both academic and out-of-class activities. Advisement is being expanded to provide easier access and more evening hours along with targeted advisement for pre-legal majors and students at academic risk.

The issue of an increased student presence on the radio was raised. Because it is not possible to add more power to student-run KSSU, Gonzalez said that Internet streaming is the likely direction the campus is heading. With the streaming, students could listen through their computers.

To a question about fee increases, Gonzalez said that because the CSU and UC systems entered a compact with Gov. Schwarzenegger, the cuts the system took weren't as bad as they could have been. But he is worried about a national shift in how public education is funded, putting more of the burden on students. "The shift. . . we're seeing is toward more accountability and more of the burden falling on the student to be able to attend a university. It goes against the master plan, against the basic philosophy of public education, of higher education," he says. "I for one . . . will be doing what I can to make sure we don't go beyond the level that has been set for additional fees," a figure that has students paying no more than one-third of the cost of their education.

Other topics dealt with proposed Associated Students funding cuts to a program that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex students; recycling efforts; the cost of textbooks; the possibility of a parking shuttle, the role of Greek organizations on campus; and encouraging local businesses to open concessions on campus.

Video of the town hall is available by visiting www.csus.edu/president.

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