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Spring 2003 l Capital University Journal
Anatomy of a student body
by Laurie Hall

Photo of csus students Generation Y. The Millennials. Echo Boomers. When the biggest crop of students ever arrived on the Sac State campus this year, most of the attention was on the group known as Tidal Wave II, the children of the Baby Boomers. But they’re only part of the sea change that will ripple through the University for years to come.

For the last few years Sac State, like campuses throughout California and the rest of the country, has been prepping for an influx of new students based on swelling high school populations. Nevertheless, when the first wave of students hit, it was even bigger than expected. Now they’re dramatically changing the face of the student body and the character of the whole campus.


  • Women make up nearly 59 percent of the student body, up from 56 percent 10 years ago. Among graduate students, 67 percent are women.
  • Almost 70 percent of students are full-time, carrying at least 12 units. Most students also work. A recent survey found 68 percent of students had a part-time job and 29 percent worked 35 or more hours a week.
  • The number of students attending the University through the Accelerated College Entrance program has nearly doubled in the last five years from 237 in 1998 to 550 in 2002. The program allows students to take college level courses while still attending high school.
An uncertain economy, pursuit of second careers and the need to boost the state’s teaching ranks had kept Sac State’s bread-and-butter populations going strong. So when the Baby Boomer children arrived, they had a lot of company.

Sac State’s enrollment in fall 2002 reached an all-time high of 28,558 students, up from 26,923 a year before and up 21 percent from 20 years ago. Among all CSU campuses, Sac State had the third largest increase following San Jose State and CSU Fullerton. Sac State is now the sixth largest campus in the 23-campus CSU system.

Over the next decade, the Sacramento Region is expected to continue growing rapidly. Its high school and college age population will grow even faster. Larry Glasmire, Sac State’s director of special programs and enrollment analysis, reports that the number of high school graduates in the Sacramento Region is projected to increase 22.2 percent between 2002 and 2010, slightly higher than the statewide rate. And the annual growth rate for the 20-24 age group in Sacramento and Placer counties is expected to be 3.5 percent through 2010, higher than the 2.3 percent rate for the region as a whole.

That youth movement is already being felt. While the University continues to attract students from all segments of the population, the numbers are definitely beginning to skew younger. Seventy-five percent of undergraduate students in fall 2002 were between the ages of 18 and 24, up from 70 percent in 2000. The number of “traditional students,” first-year freshmen out of high school, has more than doubled to nearly 2,300 since 1992.

“The average age for undergraduate students used to be 27. Now the majority of students are younger, for an average age of 24,” says Sutee Sujitparapitaya, director of institutional research. “There used to be more transfer students but for the last two years a larger percentage of freshmen have begun their academic careers here. As a result the number of students age 24 and under has increased dramatically.”

While there has been a swelling of entry-level students, interest in graduate programs remains very strong. “In the last couple of years graduate school applications increased 13 percent a year,“ says Miki Vohryzek-Bolden, associate dean for graduate studies.

As might be expected, graduate students tend to be more “mature,” with an average age of 34. Nearly half are under 30, but a healthy 26 percent are age 40 or older.

“Some are seeking personal enrichment, as in ‘I want to learn more.’ Others want professional development—‘I want to move up’—or a retooling—‘I want to revamp my skills because of technology shifts and the employment outlook,’” Vohryzek-Bolden says. “In an era of layoffs we would expect more people to come back to school to get skills they can apply in other settings.”

The demand for teachers has also beefed up the ranks of students seeking second careers. Students pursuing teaching education and special education make up 14 percent of the graduate population.

Life outside the classroom
In addition to the presence of more young faces, the changing demographics are playing out in other areas as well. “I’ve definitely seen a lot of changes,” says Dean Sorensen, program director for the University Union. Sorensen works with UNIQUE productions, a 40-member volunteer student board that puts on lectures, concerts, movies and dance performances for student audiences.

“There seems to be more interest in involvement on campus in the last four or five years,” Sorensen says. “They’re interested in anything perceived as ‘cool’ by 18- to 22-year-olds, especially stuff that was a big deal when they grew up.” For example, the group recently brought former “Cosby Show” kid-turned-poet Malcolm-Jamal Warner to campus. A year ago it was ‘80s pop star Tiffany.

Sorensen also sees that while college is a big part of students’ lives, schedules are tight. “They want to get classes taken care of then go on to other things. It provides some programming challenges,” he says. That means fewer weekend events and more “nooners”—concerts and performances during the lunch hour—and Thursday night programs.

Lou Camera, director of Sac State’s student activities office, has noticed a shift in focus as well. “What I find interesting about younger students is they’re not as established in the community yet. They’re looking for the out-of-class experience,” he says. “They’re looking for leadership opportunities and ways to get involved.”

With the influx of younger students has also come a rise in the numbers taking part in recreation programs and student organizations. “About 8,000 students take part in co-curricular activities and 10,000 participate in recreational activities,” Camera notes. “Greek life is also having a resurgence.”

About half of the University’s nearly 200 student organizations have an academic link such as the Physical Education Majors Club and the Chemistry Club. “It shows they’re interested in looking toward the future, in networking and making connections,” Camera says.

When potential students visit the campus for the first time, what interests them has a lot to do with age, says Michelle Puska, a student tour guide with University outreach services. “Freshman are interested in clubs and campus life. Juniors are more focused on academic opportunities such as internships,” she says.

The ‘new’ California
As the campus grows it also mirrors the state’s increasing diversity. In 1982 nearly 78 percent of Sac State students identified themselves as white. Now that number is 46 percent. Thirty-three percent of students consider themselves to be multi-ethnic.

The largest non-Caucasian ethnic group remains Asian/Pacific Islander, which has grown from 7 percent of the student body in 1982 to 17 percent in 2002. Hispanics have seen the largest percentage increase, going from about 5 percent of the student body in 1982 to 13 percent in 2002—a 62 percent jump.

That diversity is apparent in their interests, too. “Cultural programs are hot,” Sorensen says. “We’re finding that people of color are really interested in our activities, particularly if they are of value to their culture. The Chicano-Latino and Filipino communities in particular really respond.”

A sizable contribution to campus diversity is provided by its foreign-born students. These include not only those traditional visa students from countries outside the United States but foreign-born new immigrants. Nearly 3,000 students from 114 countries enrolled at Sac State this fall, meaning 10 percent of the student body is foreign-born.


About 8,000 students participate in student organizations, which include:

  • More than 30 cultural organizations ranging from the Fijian Students Organization to Ebony Nation to Raza Unida.
  • More than 70 departmental professional clubs ranging from the American Criminal Justice Association to the Dramatist Society to the Society of Automotive Engineers to the Student Fashion Association.
  • Combination cultural-professional groups such as the Multicultural Organization of Science Students, the Indo-American Technology Association and the International Business Organization.
  • More than 35 Greek organizations
  • Nine honors organizations
  • Ten religious organizations
  • Nine recreation organizations
  • Eleven sports clubs
  • Two service organizations
  • Eleven special interest groups such as the Disabled Student Union, the Environmental Students Organization, Model United Nations and the Queer-Straight Alliance.

Most overseas students came from Pacific Rim countries such as China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea and Asian countries such as India and Pakistan. Among the permanent residents the majority were from Mexico followed by Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Laos.

“We’re a state that is very diverse. And the University reflects California’s diversity,” says Eric Merchant, coordinator of international students and programs for the global education office, which is directed by Jack Godwin.

International students choose Sac State for a variety of reasons. Most European students are here on exchange between the University and their home school. For others, the cultural makeup of the Sacramento Region is the draw. “Many students have relatives in the area,” Merchant says. “Plus they often have friends already going here who are happy with the campus. Our number one marketing tool is our existing students.”

Academic options play a huge role as well. “A large percentage of international students tend to choose professional programs as majors, such as engineering, business administration definitely, and education as well. But we also have a large portion in other majors like interior design. Fifty percent of international students are graduate students,” he says.

Not all international ties involve students coming to Sacramento. Nearly 250 Sac State students are studying abroad in more than 26 countries—that’s nearly three times the number 10 years ago. Interest has remained strong, and has actually increased in the post-Sept. 11 era, says Monica Freeman, coordinator of international programs for global education.

“I think everyone expected students to be reluctant to study abroad after Sept. 11. But quite the opposite happened,” Freeman says. “They’re even more aware that the rest of the world affects their daily lives. Language acquisition and cultural knowledge are important in the larger picture.”

Interest in global issues also has students flocking to discussions of current events. “There are good turnouts when the Muslim or Jewish groups host discussions on the Middle East,” Camera says.

And while the events of Sept. 11 seemed to have spurred an interest in learning about the world around them, it doesn’t seem to have made them more interested in traditional politics. “Students are getting less involved in partisan politics,” Camera says. “During the last election lots of students registered to vote but they’re disillusioned. The College Democrats didn’t really form. The Young Republicans were quiet. The Greens and the Libertarians have been on campus in the past but not for the last election.”

Sorensen agrees there’s not that much interest in politics as usual but adds, “Of course, if we could get a presidential candidate to come to campus, like John McCain did in 2000, they’d be happy. There’s a ‘cool factor’ to that.”

Students are, however, interested in social issues. They packed a recent appearance by actor-environmental activist Woody Harrelson. “They’re more socially conscious than students of eight or 10 years ago,” Sorensen says. “They’ve been educated in environ-mental issues.”

They also seem to be taking an interest in their own well-being. Compared to their counterparts across the country, Sac State students drink less alcohol and are considerably less likely to engage in high-risk drinking. A national survey showed Sac State students on average consume 2.6 drinks per week, compared to 5.2 for students around the country. And 28.9 percent of Sac State students had “binged” (drank five drinks at a sitting) within the previous two weeks as opposed to 42 percent nationwide.

Most students also don’t smoke. A campus survey found 64 percent had never smoked and 69 percent had not had a cigarette in the previous 30 days. “Our students make healthy choices,” says Heather Dunn-Carlton, a campus health educator with student activities.

The University is working with student groups to reduce those numbers even further. STAND, Students Taking Action Against Nicotine Dependence, offers smoking cessation programs and has lobbied for stricter campus non-smoking policies. And the campus has a number of programs in place to encourage responsible alcohol use including a team of student peer educators.

Graphs showing student breakdowns by race, gender and class
Study habits

In the classroom today’s students seem to be staying the course on areas of study. Teacher education is the largest program on campus.

The most popular undergraduate major remains business/management, attracting 14 percent of the student body, although the numbers are down from the all-time highs of the early 80s. It is followed by criminal justice at 6 percent. Sac State’s criminal justice program is the largest west of the Mississippi.

“When students come for tours, obviously one of their biggest areas of interests is in academic programs,” says tour guide Ian Menke. “Business and criminal justice are big draws.”

Social work is the most popular non-teaching major among graduate students. Other sought-after graduate majors include counseling, education administration, nursing, and speech pathology and audiology.

For other areas, such as biological sciences, there has been a growth in what’s known as a ‘professional’ master’s degree. “The emphasis is on the link between the academic side and the applied science side in an effort to meet the needs of industry,” Vohryzek-Bolden says. Students are also interested in programs that offer research opportunities such as the master’s in geology with its ties to the U.S. Geological Survey, she says.

Increasing numbers of graduate students also seem to be interested in a general-interest major. “Liberal arts has gone up three-fold,” Vohryzek-Bolden says.

SOURCES: CSUS Office of Institutional Research, CSUS Tobacco-Free Advocacy Project, CSUS Office of Academic Affairs, CSUS Alcohol Advisory Council, CSUS Office of Global Education, CSUS California Institute for County Government, CSU Chancellor’s Office, U.S. Department of Education, Core Institute.

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