The California State University Board of Trustees convened Tuesday and Wednesday to further discuss the Graduation Initiative 2025 and the tuition increase proposed by the chancellor’s office.
The board was met on both days by protesters voicing their concerns about the board’s push to get students to graduate faster and to possibly raise tuition.
Cal State Fullerton graduate student and Students for Quality Education (SQE) member Elizabeth Sanchez addressed the board at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting.
“Every time (the board) comes up with these crazy concepts and wants to dig into our pockets, I feel less and less valued. I feel like a dollar to all of you,” Sanchez said.
The CSU anticipates receiving an allocation of $157.2 million from the state, leaving a $168.8 million funding gap between state funding and university need, according to the tuition proposal.
Even with the state approving a one-time funding of $35 million to support campus graduation initiative efforts, the CSU is considering a potential tuition increase of no more than $270 for undergraduate students, $438 for graduate students and $312 for those in credential programs to help fund the initiative to significantly increase graduation rates by 2025.
San Jose State students, Ryan Eckford and Eric Medrano, attended Wednesday’s protest, representing their school’s chapter of SQE.
“It seems like they’re treating the CSU system like a corporation, where they’re just trying to yield as much human talent as possible at the expense of our sanity and freedom,” Medrano said.
Medrano is $13,000 in debt and said he’s fearful of his future after college because of this.
Cal State Dominguez Hills business law professor Charles Thomas is involved in the faculty association and academic senate. He fights to oppose student fee increases and to establish sanctuary sites for students on campuses.
Thomas said the board is tone deaf to the situation. They gave a report that spoke to none of the students and their “compassionate” statements.
“Educational debt is real, and it stays with you,” Thomas said.
The graduation initiative includes different projects that the chancellor’s office is working on with the campuses. The first is reforming some graduation procedures that, if not done correctly, keep students from receiving their degrees.
“The goal is to ensure that every CSU student who has done the work to be a candidate for graduation has a clear and seamless path across the commencement stage,” said James T. Minor, Ph.D., senior strategist for Academic Success and Inclusive Excellence.
Student trustee Maggie White echoed the importance of changing graduation procedures.
“If you have completed all your coursework, paperwork should not stop you from graduating … A piece of paper wasn’t turned in on time. It doesn’t matter about all the other pieces of paper that were turned in–countless essays and countless worksheets,” White said.
The chancellor’s office plans to review drop-for-nonpayment policies that can keep students from graduating. The CSU is considering implementing a “micro-grant program” similar to Georgia State University’s Panther Retention Grant. These grants would typically be under $1,000.
The graduation initiative also calls for an increase in sections for high-demand courses and a re-evaluation of courses with high rates of drops, failures or withdraws.
Assistant vice chancellor for Student Success Initiatives Research and Innovation Jeff Gold demonstrated two new online dashboards that the CSU plans to launch in efforts to achieve the 2025 graduation goals.
One is designed for high school students and offers data on specific high schools and their relationship with the CSU system. The other is for CSU faculty and gives them a closer perspective on students and their individual needs.
Some trustees commended the work being done on the graduation initiative, as well as highlighted the importance of avoiding raising tuition.
“To really accomplish the goals of the Graduation Initiative 2025, we really have to push the legislators and the governor that we get that continued funding of $75 million, or whatever we determine in the future years, because we can’t do it just on one-time money,” said trustee Steve Stepanek.
Other members of the community shared their concerns to the board for fighting for state funding.
“It’s easy to raise fees on students. A simple vote, a stroke of a pen,” said California Faculty Association President Jennifer Eagan. “What’s more difficult is effectively fighting in the legislature to restore appropriate per student funding levels.”