What Is Impaction?
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What is ‘Impaction’?

Mary Jane Horton

If you’ve heard about “impacted” majors, programs and campuses but aren’t sure what it means, read on to learn more. 

What Is Impaction?

If a CSU campus, program and/or major has more qualified applicants than it can accommodate, it it referred to as "impacted." Photo courtesy of CSU Fullerton


Impaction. It's a word students might hear when they find out they can't enroll at a CSU campus, or in a class or a certain major. If you don't know what it means, you're not alone.

That's why we talked to April Grommo, Ed.D., director of Enrollment Management Services at the California State University, Office of the Chancellor, in Long Beach, California, to get the lowdown on what impacted classes and campuses mean for students.

What is the definition of impaction?

"[Impaction] is when a program or campus receives more eligible applicants during the initial application filing period than can be accommodated," explains Dr. Grommo.

If you're applying for a fall term, the initial application period is October 1 through November 30 of the previous year.  So if you applied to attend a CSU campus starting in fall 2017, the initial application filing period was October 1 to November 30, 2016.

"There are really three types of impaction," Grommo continues. The first is at the program level, such as nursing or engineering.

In this situation, each campus looks at the capacity of the program and the number of students currently enrolled and figures out how many more students they can take in that program.  When a program or major continually gets more eligible applicants than it can accommodate, then the campus will ask for the program or major to be called "impacted."

The second type, says Grommo, is at the academic level, in which a campus receives more eligible applicants at the first-time freshman or transfer student level, for instance. As with an impacted program, the campus itself is then called "impacted."

Finally, Grommo says, "there are campuses that are fully impacted on all levels and for all majors." Each individual program at a campus must then determine its capacity and how many new students it can accept.

The CSU campuses that are impacted at all levels and all programs are Fresno State, CSU Fullerton, CSU Long Beach, San Diego State, San José State, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Impaction also means that campuses can--and do--often invoke what's called "supplementary admission criteria" either for the program or for students who don't reside in the campus's local area. This means that the campus requires higher standards for admitting students when it is impacted.

Impaction can affect graduate students as well.

When did impaction start?

"The records for which campuses and programs are impacted go back to 1977," explains Grommo.

Are there any CSU campuses that aren't impacted at all?

Currently, six campuses are not impacted, says Grommo. These are CSU Bakersfield, CSU Channel Islands, CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU East Bay, Cal Maritime and Stanislaus State.

Are some majors more likely to be impacted?

"Nursing is really the most impacted major; it's impacted on all campuses that offer a four-year program," explains Grommo. "And it's too bad, because there is such a high need for nurses. Part of the reason for this [impaction] is that there are state guidelines about the student-to-professor ratio. Also, there have to be enough slots at hospitals where students can do their practical requirements."

"Engineering programs also tend to be impacted," she adds.

What's being done about impaction?

"Campuses are doing a number of things to support students to be able to get the classes they want and need and to accept as many new students as possible," Grommo stresses.

Campuses also prioritize admission to students from their local co​​mmunities. This prevents more students from having to go to another CSU campus that's far from where they live to take the classes they need or to enroll in their preferred major. 

In addition, a new program called California Promise will start in fall 2017. This program allows students to finish their degree in four years, though not all majors will be offered and there are specific criteria for participation.

Students in California Promise commit to completing 30 semester units (or the quarter equivalent) per year and to maintaining a good GPA. They are eligible for priority registration and enhanced academic advising.

"The reasoning behind California Promise," Grommo says, "is that the more students who are able to complete their undergraduate degree in four years, the more spaces are opened up for  new students."

What can students do to help ensure they are accepted to the CSU?

First, students should apply to their local CSU; local-area students have priority over out-of-area students.

Second, Grommo recommends working with your high school or community college counselor to ensure you're taking the classes you need to be academically prepared for the CSU.

"You should also research the campuses and majors you're interested in to find out if they are impacted," she says. "All impacted campuses have additional information about their programs and impaction on their website. You can also reach out to campuses to get additional information."

If you're pursuing an Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT), check out your options. The Degree with a Guarantee site allows you to see what CSU campuses accept your ADT. The ASSIST tool will also show you how you can transfer course credits earned at a public California college to a CSU or UC campus.

What can students do when attending a CSU to make sure they get their classes?

"On many CSU campuses there is mandatory advising," says Grommo, meaning that students can work with an advisor to ensure they get the classes they'll need to graduate.

"There are also e-advising tools in place that really spell out what classes a student needs to take and when," she adds.

"The 'degree au​dit' tool looks at what units you have, including high school AP classes and transfer units, and tells you what you need to graduate. There is also a scheduling tool that tells you the classes you need. You can put in your own personal data—such as your work schedule—and the tool generates specific class times that fit into your schedule."

What is the future of impaction?

"I think it's here to stay unless something changes in state funding," says Grommo. "The California Department of Education just released numbers that showed the number of high school graduates to be stagnant, but there are still more and more students who have met all of their coursework requirements and can apply to a CSU."


To learn more about which CSU campuses and programs are impacted, click here.

Current as of February 6, 2017.


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