COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

Eric Murtaugh recently wrote in these pages that he was fed up with students of California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems who lack focus and seem more intent on partying than on preparing to enter the workforce (“Time to get a haircut — and a real job”, July 24). I enjoyed his take, and we’ve all met examples of those students. But the majority of students are not representative of this stereotype and cutting their post-secondary educational opportunities is simply not a long-term solution to California or San Diego’s economic challenges — quite the opposite, in fact.
I agree with Murtaugh that the CSU system continues t o deliver an excellent value for California and its students, that university life should have a social component, and that career technical education and professional trades are as worthy a post-secondary pursuit as a university degree. Having worked closely with North County Trade Tech High School in Vista and the National University Academy across the county, I’m a firm believer in the value of career-focused learning.
But on the funding issues and shrugging off the $3 billion in cuts to the CSU and UC systems, readers need to be made fully aware of the additional contributions that our North County CSU campus makes to students, society and our economy. Cal State San Marcos makes a big difference.
It has educated nearly 24,000 alumni since its founding 20 years ago, and 80 percent of its graduates have stayed in the region to contribute to our local workforce.
This past academic year, students of Cal State contributed more than 104,000 hours of community service — valued at $830,000 — through the university’s nationally acclaimed Community Service Learning Program. That’s hardly slacking!
Cal State is a significant economic engine for North San Diego County for these reasons, but also because it provides direct employment for more than 1,600 people (staff, faculty and students). Annual spending related to Cal State in the San Diego region generates a total impact of $307 million on the regional economy. This impact sustains more than 5,000 jobs in the region, and generates $16 million per year in tax revenue. Even greater, $103 million of the earnings by alumni from Cal State are attributable to their CSU degrees.
Cal State in particular provides many services to help counsel students and tries to address the focus issues that Murtaugh’s op ed raised so that students stay in college and get the most out of it. For instance, the university supports student academic success through programs like its First Year Experience for freshmen, student tutorial services for language and writing support, a living/learning residential program, community service, and support for an ethnically diverse student population.
Many Cal State students (38.1 percent of entering fall 2008 freshmen) are the first in their family to attend college. Helping families achieve higher educational attainment and increasing the percentage of area residents with post-secondary education is another economic driver. It is also something large companies seek when they consider locating their businesses in a place like San Diego County.
Here’s the final rub: Over the past 10 years, state funding for the CSUs overall has fallen $600 million while student enrollment has grown by 100,000. And, just for reference, the state spends $49,000 per year to keep a prisoner behind bars and only $4,600 to put a student in a CSU — now, which of those figures do you find more outrageous?
Julie Wright owns a Solana Beach business and is a member of the Cal State University San Marcos President’s Council as well as chair of the SDNEDC.

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