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More Cal State campuses are considering 'student success fees'

Four additional schools could charge students $200 to $500 per semester for more class offerings, counseling. But critics say they are a way to shift costs without raising tuition.

March 02, 2014|By Carla Rivera
  • Jacqueline Ford, right, a junior studying graphic design, participates in a discussion of plans to increase fees at Cal State Dominguez Hills last month.
Jacqueline Ford, right, a junior studying graphic design, participates… (Christina House / For The…)

They are called "student success fees" and they offer the promise of more classes and programs and improved graduation rates for thousands of California State University students. But critics say they are a thinly veiled attempt to shift more education costs to students — without increasing tuition.

Campuses in Fullerton, Dominguez Hills, Fresno and San Diego all are considering these charges, ranging from $200 to $500 per semester.

If approved, those Cal State campuses will join others in the East Bay, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Pomona, San Bernardino, San Jose, San Luis Obispo and San Marcos, which already are charging such fees. They were among the first to do so — most beginning in 2011 amid deep state budget cuts.

The "success fees" are a relatively recent phenomenon that troubles many opponents, who argue that students shouldn't have to pay extra for instructional programs that should be included in tuition. The most recent proposals also flout promises made to lawmakers and the governor to freeze costs in return for additional state funding, they contend.

The charges "might be a way for campuses to do an end-run around the tuition freeze, and we want to make sure the system is still truly affordable," said Miles Nevin, executive director of the California State Student Assn.

Despite increased state funding this year, campus leaders say their universities haven't recovered from years of cuts that amounted to $1 billion systemwide. They say they are being forced to look to students to help pay for more class offerings, upgraded classrooms, faculty hiring, expanded counseling and other services. Typically, these are covered by tuition and state funding.

The universities also are under increasing pressure to improve retention and graduation rates — efforts that officials maintain don't come cheaply.

"We have to look to high-impact practices such as increasing advisement, supplemental instruction, expanding library services and internships," said Berenecea Johnson Eanes, vice president of student affairs at Cal State Fullerton, which is proposing a $481 annual fee increase that would be phased in over three years. "But the budget situation for the state is still tenuous."

Annual tuition at Cal State's 23 campuses — $5,472 — is set by the Board of Trustees and has not risen in three years; room, board, transportation and other expenses can increase the total cost of attendance to more than $25,000 annually at such campuses as San Diego State University.

Aside from tuition, individual campuses can seek approval from the chancellor to charge mandatory enrollment fees for such student services as health centers, student government and laboratory equipment.

The so-called success fees, however, have sparked debate at dozens of campuses across the state. Sonoma dropped its proposed $250-per-semester fee last month after vigorous student and faculty dissent.

Opponents submitted a petition of more than 1,200 signatures that included a pledge declaring they would never donate to the university if the fee were adopted, sociology professor Peter Phillips said.

"State colleges used to be free, and now students have to pay $7,000, $8,000 or $9,000 to go to an institution and come out with huge debt," Phillips said. "This was very concerning to us because we think it would hurt diversity and price a lot of students out of the campus."

Carie Rael, 26, a graduate student in history who has two full-time jobs, said the proposed $240.50 per semester fee at Cal State Fullerton would be a strain. She said she feared she would have to put in even more work hours and would risk lowering her straight-A grades.

"It was kind of shocking that all of a sudden this huge fee was being proposed," Rael said.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) called the success fees a "mistake" and said he planned to meet with Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White, who must approve the new fees, to discuss the issue.

"Now that the economy is returning and we're reinvesting in California's higher education system, further emphasis needs to be on increasing state support," said Levine, a member of the Assembly's higher education committee.

A new report from the nonprofit California Budget Project found that even with funding increases of $142.2 million in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2014-15 budget for Cal State and the University of California, state support would remain nearly one-quarter below pre-recession levels.

Tuition and fees have increased dramatically since 2006 — 91% at Cal State and 74% at UC, the report found.

A spokesman for Brown declined to comment; the governor had made holding costs stable a condition of a proposed multiyear funding plan.

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