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Casey Christie/ The Californian

Cal State Bakersfield President Horace Mitchell in a 2012 photo. On Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, the campus president said CSUB's enrollment is projected to hit a record high this academic year.

Cal State Bakersfield's enrollment is projected to hit a record high as the university embarks on its 44th year of operation, President Horace Mitchell told faculty and staff during an annual address delivered at the beginning of each academic year.

Total enrollment was 8,009 last year in both the undergraduate and graduate schools, up 15.2 percent from 6,950 in 2008.

This year, it's projected to be about 8,500, including 1,300 full-time freshmen, Mitchell told the audience at University Day Monday.

Official numbers won't be known until the end of the month, when the university will conduct a census of this fall's students. Classes begin on Sept. 16.

The Cal State University system caps enrollment at different levels at each of its campuses based on a variety of factors, including demand for classes and the availability of state funding.

This year, CSUB was granted a jump that was slightly higher than the university's usual proportional share of overall CSU enrollment growth, Mitchell said.

The university made the case for the increase by outlining the "critical need for education" in the region to the CSU system, Mitchell said.

The university budget also is getting a boost this year, the first increase following several consecutive years of cuts.

He called that a refreshing change from last year's uncertainty, when the university's charge was to "move forward together and sail through those uncharted waters and not drift or lie at anchor."

After mandatory costs, the university should see a net increase this year of about $3 million, Mitchell said before he was interrupted by applause.

"Go ahead, you can clap," he said, smiling.

Due to previous budget cuts, only a dozen of Cal State's 23 campuses -- including CSUB -- admitted students for the spring 2013 term. Enrollment was limited to community college transfer students.

Mitchell also took the opportunity to update the audience on the university's transition from a 10-week quarter system to 15-week semesters.

CSUB is one of only six CSUs on the quarter system. The chancellor's office would like to see the entire system on the same format.

A University Semester Conversion Committee is being assembled that will consist of administrators, faculty and students.

The plan is to make the full switch by fall 2016, but some courses and technological changes will be phased in earlier.

The university was planning to update its general education requirements, anyway, and hopes to have them finalized before the new format is implemented.

The Associated Students Inc. backed the conversion to semesters when it was announced last year. A majority of CSUB's Academic Senate, a governing group of faculty representatives, opposed going to semesters in a non-binding informational vote.

Some of that was evident during Monday's address, when one professor asked Mitchell if the workload for instructors would increase, and another expressed concern that the new format would rob time from research and professional development.

Mitchell said that weighted teaching units -- or the number of hours instructors are expected to spend in class lecturing -- will be the same under both systems.

He added that the university values research and professional development and will make sure that faculty have enough time to innovate.

"Otherwise, you're just talking about what someone else is doing," he said, and "that's not as enriching for students."

Mitchell reiterated his longstanding position that semesters will allow cost savings, improved access and better efficiency, and ultimately are in students' best interest because they can go deeper into the curriculum.

CSUB plans to work with students to make sure none are held back due to the new format, Mitchell said. Individualized plans will allow for exceptions and substitutions on some required courses so that everyone can graduate on time, he said.