Backpacks in tow and books in hand, Jeffrey Farillas and Jolan Cadiz, both 19 and from Oxnard, walked across the California State University, Channel Islands campus on the afternoon of March 27 to Malibu Hall.

They waited in line with about 500 other students, professors and administrators, and slowly shuffled into the standing-room-only auditorium.

Farillas and Cadiz were there because they want to be nurses. In their first year at CSUCI, in the nursing program, they worked hard to remain in the competitive program. But they’re afraid their hard work this year might not pay off into a spot in the program next year.

In the 2006-07 school year there were 66 spots for students in the nursing program; next year there will be half that, if the governor’s proposed budget cuts of $386 million to the CSU system pass, said Richard Rush, CSUCI president.

“The lack of nurses in California clearly is a crisis,” Rush said. “We have to pay to grow our own. This isn’t about us; it’s about the future and about health. We hope they (legislators) deal with the real priorities in the state.”

Sacramento seems to have a different set of priorities for the state than the CSU system, which has banded together to fight the governor’s proposed cuts. If the cuts are approved, CSUCI will lose about $2.5 million and will have to freeze its enrollment, which has been growing since the school’s inception in 2002.

Student fees will also go up about 10 percent, making financial aid more competitive, Rush said. Class sizes will likely increase, and professors could get laid off or be saddled with bigger workloads, he said.

Sophia Nichols, a first-year student who is studying to be a teacher, said her family is already financially strained, and it will be difficult for her father to pay tuition if fees increase.

“I’m here at the meeting because I believe education shouldn’t be too expensive, because some people who can barely afford it now probably won’t be able to afford it in the future. And that’s just not fair,” Nichols said.

“The solution is going to be really difficult. They’re really going to have to brainstorm, but I’m pretty sure there is a solution, because education is our future.”

Lawmakers will enact the budget sometime this summer or fall, Rush said. About 50 CSUCI students, along with a handful of faculty members, plan to travel to Sacramento and knock on legislators’ doors to try to persuade them to find a way around the budget cuts, administrators announced at the meeting.

About 10,000 students who would normally be accepted to CSU schools next year will instead be turned away, said Elizabeth Hoffman, a CSU Long Beach faculty member who attended the meeting.

“We’re here to show people that the CSU is the solution to the state’s problems, not the problem,” she said. “Our graduates form the backbone of the state economy.”

Hoffman said legislators need to look at the CSU system as an investment instead of a one-time expense. For every $1 spent on the CSU system, $4 goes back into the state economy because graduates tend to work and pay taxes in California, she said.

Farillas and Cadiz are among the many students at CSUCI who live at home in Ventura County and who might not have the financial means to transfer to another school if they can’t get into their program of choice.

“It’s going to be tougher to finish, especially in nursing,” said Farillas. “And my family is already financially strained.”

After working hard in high school to get to college, only to face another obstacle in his first year — an even more competitive program that has been whittled down to the bare bones — Farillas has been a let down, he said.

“And meanwhile there’s this shortage,” he said. “How are we going to help the need for nurses if we can’t even get a degree? I didn’t really expect this to happen. It’s disappointing.”