California State University, Fresno began the spring 2010 semester on Thursday (Jan. 21) with 18,451 students registered – down 3,000 from a year ago due to budget-related cutbacks, but with several new programs to help students.

The first day of the semester went smoothly despite the latest in a series of winter rainstorms and the closing of Barstow Avenue between Chestnut and Willow avenues so power crews could repair two utility poles set askew by wind and rain-saturated soil.

Despite the road closure, University Police reported minimal traffic issues as students returned to campus aside from the usual first-of-semester congestion on campus roads and parking lots.

The storm seemed like a metaphor for the past year’s budget difficulties, while the minimal impact mirrored the university’s ability to meet the challenges.

One impact of budget cuts to the California State University system is reduced enrollment this semester because Fresno State could not add new students. Fall enrollment last semester was down by about 1,000 students and this fall, another 2,000 fewer students will be admitted.

At his spring address to faculty and staff Tuesday, Jan. 19, university President John D. Welty commended employees for their perseverance through class cuts, student discontent about higher fees, furloughs, pay cuts, layoffs and other budget-cutting measures.

He noted that one time federal funding is helping restore some classes and faculty this spring, adding, “We’re getting reports from students that they are finding it a little bit easier to get the classes they need.”

He also praised two new programs design to help students achieve their higher education goals: the Center for the Scholarly Advancement of Learning and Teaching and the Student Success Task Force. Both are part of a CSU plan for increasing the six-year graduate rate for first-time freshmen and transfer students by six percentage points by fall 2015.

“An additional goal is to reduce the graduation rate gap between traditionally represented students and underrepresented groups by one half,” Welty said.

The center was launched in October with Dr. Ellen Junn, the associate provost, as its interim director. It has three initiatives: improving student writing, enhancing student information literacy and cultivating faculty learning communities.

The writing improvement initiative, a three-part campuswide effort to address a critical need for students, has attracted 152 faculty members who will work with 6,500-7,000 students.

The Student Success Task Force, co-chaired by Provost William Covino and Student Affairs Vice President Paul M. Oliaro, seeks ways to increase retention and graduation rates by helping this year’s entering students improve student writing as well.

Initiatives include a mandatory academic success workshop for students with low GPAs, renewal of the university’s Mentoring Institute, increased emphasis on academic advising and expanded support for faculty-student collaboration on research projects.

“These are efforts to keep our students connected, focused, and engaged – key elements for their continuing success,” Welty said.

The typically busy campus spring calendar, includes the kickoff of the university’s 13-month celebration of its centennial during Vintage Days, April 15-18. Numerous events to attract alumni and the community to campus are planned from fall 2010 through Commencement 2011.

Budget-cutting furloughs combined with the César E. Chávez state holiday will keep the campus closed this spring break from March 29 to April 5. Usually Fresno State staff workers are on duty nd the campus is open during the break. Plans are under way to observe Chavez’s birthday on March 24.

Final exams are May 17-20 and the 99th Commencement is May 22.