In the late 1960s, the San Francisco State University campus in the flat, fogbound southwestern corner of the city was an epicenter of student antiwar and ethnic pride movements. The central plaza, named for Malcolm X, and the student center, named for labor organizer Cesar Chávez, remain gathering spots for protests. But now, students and faculty members rally, march, and occupy buildings in an effort to keep tuition affordable and class sizes reasonably small.
San Francisco State boasts plenty worth fighting for. The August Coppola Theatre features high-tech film editing facilities. While he was dean of creative arts at the school, Coppola, who died in 2009, cajoled donations of equipment and other aid from Northern California filmmakers such as his brother, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas. The program, which attracts film students from around the world, has produced successes such as Jonas Rivera, nominated for an Oscar this year for his role producing Up. Many film stars also studied here, including Annette Bening, Dana Carvey, and Danny Glover.
Budget cuts, however, appear to be reversing many gains the school has made in recent years. Yearly student fees (the California state universities historically haven't charged tuition) were less than $3,500 in 2007. This fall, they will top $4,700. While that's still one of the lowest costs in the country for a four-year college, it represents a painful 37 percent increase in just three years.
Administrators trimmed more than 400 classes in 2009. The undergrad-to-faculty ratio reached 30 to 1 in the 2009 academic year, up from 26 in 2008. Many professors lost teaching assistants, sparking some to switch from tougher essay assignments to multiple-choice tests.
To reduce costs and overcrowding, San Francisco State is cutting the number of freshmen it accepts, making it difficult to win admission to in-demand majors such as nursing, psychology, interior design, and journalism.
Budget cuts have packed so many into classes that students sometimes have to sit on the floor, says Honora Keller, who graduated in May with a degree in health education. They have also made it difficult for students to get the classes they need to finish in four years, she notes. (Just 11 percent of students who start as freshmen finish in four years. Only 42 percent even finish in six.) But that just forces students to learn an important life skill: how to "wheedle in and get a class," says Keller, adding that she enjoyed living and learning in the Bay Area. "For all of its problems, I love San Francisco State."
More About San Francisco State:
Plus Factor: The cinema department boasts high-tech film editing facilities. No protest there.
Undergrad enrollment, 2009: 25,001
Est. annual cost, 2010-2011: in state, $23,312; out of state, $34,472
California Road Trip: