The Cal State University Board of Trustees elicited student outrage Wednesday after it voted in favor of a tuition increase across all 23 California campuses.
The board voted 11-8 to raise tuition effective fall 2017. The last time tuition increased was in the 2010-2011 school year.
“Don’t feel dejected by today’s vote. This was historic in many respects because we finally had a real debate here at the CSU about tuition,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to students protesting outside following the meeting. “I do not know why we keep being so predictable, and I do not know why we continue to take all the pressure off the (state) legislature.”
The increase for undergraduate students is $270, $312 for credential students and $438 for graduate students.
“Across the system, we have very robust financial aid packages,” said Michael Uhlenkamp, CSU interim senior director of Public Affairs. “The students who are the most needy in terms of financial aid would actually be insulated from a tuition increase.”
Uhlenkamp said those considered “most needy” are students with a family income of less than $70,000 who would be covered by grants and waivers.
“With grants, I think the really big issue is the potential of reducing Pell Grants because of the federal budget that might come out. That, I think is going to really have an effect on our students,” said Tonantzin Oseguera, CSUF associate vice president for Student Affairs.
She said she attended the meeting to support students, ensure their safety and educate them on the official meeting process.
Students shared their stories of how the increased cost would affect their quality of life during public comment. Many speakers said they have to work multiple jobs to pay for school.
“Today, I want to tell you how I feel about this trend of forcing the burden of cost on the backs of students,” said CSUF SQE member Ashley Rojo during public comment. “There is this idea that the more we pay for our education, the more we will value it, meaning that is only a privilege if you are warranted. However, this costly investment for our own likelihood should not be something we have to suffer for.”
Board members in support of the tuition increase said that a lack of state funding brought them to make a difficult decision, despite student opposition. In the past 10 years, state funding for the Cal State system has dropped 12 percent, according to the CSU budget.
Board member Peter J. Taylor said there was “zero joy” in discussing a tuition increase.
The 2017-2018 CSU Support Budget proposed a state investment of $324.9 million. However, California’s 2017-2018 budget proposed allocating $157.2 million to CSU, leaving a $167.7 million gap to be covered by the university system.
“We are here because the state has consistently and persistently underfunded this institution, and it is embarrassing that we are stuck with this awful choice between access and quality,” Taylor said.
Taylor voted “Yes” to increase tuition.
Appointed trustee Jane Carney recommended two amendments to the CSU Finance Committee that were added to the motion prior to the board’s vote. The amendments concerned transparency and a repeal of the tuition increase in the event that the CSU system became fully funded by the state legislature.
The committee said the increase will generate $77.5 million in net revenue.
“I don’t bring this forward with an ounce of joy, but I bring it out of necessity,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White.
Part of the money will go to student success initiatives, like CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025, which aims to increase the rate at which CSU students graduate, including raising the four-year graduation rate to 40 percent.
“The plan would be to hire about 400 more faculty members, add 3,000 more courses and add more advisors,” Uhlenkamp said.
Tuition rates would also increase for the three doctoral programs offered by CSU. The Doctor of Education program will increase by $720, the Doctor of Nursing Practice program by $930 and the Doctor of Physical Therapy program by $1,048.
The meeting was met with large pushback from the Students for Quality Education (SQE) organization, which has clubs on many of the CSU campuses. Students who could not fit into the public section of the meeting room continued protesting outside during the meeting.
SQE members led chants during the meeting of “What about the students?,” “Chancellor White, do what’s right” and “The more we pay, the longer we stay.” Many of the members wore graduation caps and gowns with signs around their necks that read the amounts they owe in student debt.
The students’ fervor continued outside the CSU Chancellor’s Office with members of SQE chanting “No justice, no peace, no tuition increase” and “Shame, shame, shame.”
Cal State Fullerton SQE member Liz Sanchez said they were “devastated” by the Board’s tuition decision but were positively surprised that more members than usual supported their goal.
“SQE is already prepared for the next battle,” Sanchez said. “It happened, but we can fight for free higher education. We can fight to lower the costs essentially. Just keep pushing. All these entities have to work together.”
Along with Newsom, board member Lateefah Simon joined the crowd of protesters to take a turn on the megaphone. She referred to the students as her “boss” because she said they are the constituency she serves.
“This movement that you all have developed, keep moving,” Simon said. “The creativity and the beauty and the diversity and the struggle of these students are what is going to save the institution.”
“Thank you for lobbying and encouraging and pushing us to think differently … There is no power like the power of the students.”