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Cal State trustees raise tuition 12%

Board votes 13 to 2 in favor of the fee hike, saying 'the overriding importance is to keep doors open.' Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown criticizes board for approving San Diego State president's $400,000 salary.

July 13, 2011|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • Susana Amezcua, a sophomore at Cal State Northridge, protests outside the chancellor's office as trustees meet to vote on a tuition increase.
Susana Amezcua, a sophomore at Cal State Northridge, protests outside… (Arkasha Stevenson / Los…)

California State University trustees on Tuesday approved a 12% increase in tuition for this fall, saying the funds are needed to maintain student access and limit damage to programs and services after a $650-million cut in the university's state funding.

The trustees, meeting in Long Beach, voted 13 to 2 in favor of the hike despite the protests of scores of chanting, sign-waving students. Demonstrators urged the board to impose a one-year moratorium on raising tuition, which has tripled over the last decade. The latest boost of $294 per semester comes on top of a previously approved 10% tuition increase for the coming school year.

The board was under pressure on more than one front. Gov. Jerry Brown sent trustees a letter strongly criticizing a recommendation to pay the new president of San Diego State $400,000 — $100,000 more than his predecessor, even as the university faces severe budget cuts.

In making the salary recommendation for Elliot Hirshman, Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed has cited a system-sponsored study that found Cal State presidents to be underpaid compared to their peers at similar institutions. Hirshman, who assumed the post in San Diego on July 1, will be paid $350,000 from the state with a supplement of $50,000 from the campus' nonprofit foundation.

Brown rejected Reed's argument.

"I fear your approach to compensation is setting a pattern for public service that we cannot afford," he wrote in the letter to board chairman Herbert Carter. "At a time when the state is closing its courts, laying off public school teachers and shutting senior centers, it is not right to be raising the salaries of leaders who — of necessity — must demand sacrifice from everyone else."

Trustees approved the compensation package, but many expressed misgivings.

"This has nothing to do with Dr. Hirshman, who is eminently qualified and we're lucky to have him," said Steven M. Glazer, one of three trustees who voted no. "But our institution has experienced a tremendous shock in the last year.…We need a new model that de-escalates the salary spiral."

Carter voted to approve Hirshman's salary but also formed a committee to review policies on selecting and paying campus presidents. Several of the current presidents have said they plan to retire soon, officials said.

Several speakers, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sits on the board, criticized the message sent by the trustees' votes on tuition and Hirshman's salary.

"Plenty of people are watching, people we need as supporters, and I feel we're making mistakes today," said Newsom, who voted against both items.

Others, however, laid the blame on Sacramento and said the tuition hike was needed to avoid turning away thousands of students. "I have consistently voted no on past fee increases, but this time the overriding importance is to keep doors open," said trustee Melinda Guzman.

The recently approved state budget slashes funding for Cal State and the University of California by $650 million each — $150 million more than the university systems had anticipated. Even deeper cuts are possible if expected revenues do not materialize. On Thursday, UC's regents will consider raising tuition 9.6%, on top of an 8% increase already scheduled to take effect this fall.

Cal State's latest increase means annual undergraduate tuition will rise to $5,472 for fall 2011. With campus-based fees that average $950, students will pay about $6,422 annually, not including books and housing.

One-third of the revenue from the tuition increase will be set aside for financial aid, officials said.

But that may not help students like Dalia Hernandez, a geography major at Cal State Long Beach who said she is already looking for a second job to help meet the new expenses. The Costa Mesa resident says she commutes an hour and a half on the bus to school to save money.

"Some of my friends who are middle income and, like myself, don't receive financial aid are being forced to get several jobs while our parents are struggling to pay mortgages," Hernandez, 22, said after addressing the board. "We still have this California dream, but to progress we need an educated population."

Erik Dimitruk also works to pay his tuition and said that trustees are out of touch with student needs.

"How are you paying someone $100,000 more a year and saying we have to raise tuition — it doesn't make much sense," said Dimitruk, 25, a Cal State L.A. graduate student. Graduate fees were raised by $720 annually, to $6,738. "I understand with the budget cuts that people have to tighten their belts, but everyone should have to do that."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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