‘Magic bullet’ is fantasy fix

by Leonardo Castaneda

Omar Rodriguez / Staff Artist

In the waning hours of his tenure, San Diego State President Stephen L.Weber made some curious remarks about the state of affairs at SDSU. During a recent interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, Weber claimed the “magic bullet” for all of SDSU’s problems lies with the elimination of local preference.

That much maligned program, which works by adding extra points to a local applicant’s eligibility index calculated from their SAT / ACT scores and GPAs, was born with the baby boomers. In 1960, the overwhelmed higher education system in California created the California Master Plan for Higher Education, in which the California State Universities would service local area students with affordable and accessible undergraduate degrees. Meanwhile, the University of California schools would be primarily research institutions with a monopoly on doctorates.

A lot has changed since then. SDSU now offers several doctorates and is a nationally ranked research institution. But one thing hasn’t changed: SDSU’s mission of providing higher education for San Diego area students. As recently as last year, Weber himself reiterated his “commitment to the region” by increasing the percentage of local area student enrollment.

Many critics argue that local preference has turned SDSU into an insulated, locals-only institution. Yet the majority of students are not from the school’s local service area. Of the incoming fall freshmen, only 44 percent are from SDSU’s local admission area. Clearly local preference isn’t intended to keep qualified non-local students out. It simply provides a guarantee the school will keep faithful to its original mission, even as the standards and scope of the school change.

While Weber never specified how exactly this anti-local panacea could possibly cure all that ails SDSU, academic improvement is at the heart of the debate. The common belief is that we admit unqualified local students instead of highly capable non-local students. By allowing more non-local students, Weber and others allege we can make admission more competitive and raise the standard for enrollment.

This idea not only makes a mockery of SDSU’s mission, it ignores the changes that have taken place at SDSU in the past four years. Since 2006 the average GPA of incoming freshmen has increased by .33 to an all-time high of 3.78. During that same time, the percentage of local area students admitted also increased by more than 7 percent. That shows we can increase the admission standards of SDSU, while not just continuing but expanding our commitment to local students.

The extra admission points local students receive don’t mean unqualified students are admitted simply because they’re local. It provides a check to ensure that, with this year’s unprecedented 60,000 applicants and future applicants to come, its obligation to local students doesn’t get drowned out.

So if Weber’s “magic bullet” won’t improve academics, what will it do? With budget cuts concreted in the backs of everyone’s mind, any cure-all solution will have a significant impact on our school’s pocketbook. So would eliminating local preference solve SDSU’s financial woes? The short answer: no. The long answer: There’s absolutely no way it would. While out-of-state students do pay more expensive tuition fees, they only represent 15 percent of non-local students. That means even if the number of full-time out-of-state students doubles, it would only bring in an additional $1,290,000 million in revenue — nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars our school lost from recent budget cuts.

That just leaves non-local students taking up more SDSU owned properties. Unfortunately, there is no evidence non-local students could increase housing revenue enough to actually impact school finances. But more importantly, SDSU is a school, not a real estate firm. It must not base its application decisions on who is likelier to live in a residence hall.

All decisions about the application process must be underlined by the school’s mission. SDSU is in an unusual position because it has grown in scope and prestige much faster than any other CSU. Our school has drawn students from throughout the state and around the world to sunny San Diego. But it’s taken work — we have reached this point only by building upon the local students and community. The other 22 CSUs have had the same chances to grow from within their own local areas, but few have been as successful as SDSU.

Now is not the time to forget what made us great. To betray San Diegans, local students and the school’s true mission isn’t a “magic bullet.” It’s a pipe dream that will shatter the very foundation of SDSU.

— Leonardo Castaneda is an economics and journalism freshman.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.