Despite student outrage and a top state official’s condemnation of trustees as “excellent sheep,” the California State University governing board voted Wednesday to raise tuition by 5 percent for the 2017-18 school year to address a shortfall in funding from the state in the face of increased demand for programs.
The vote was 11-8, with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson — all ex-officio members of the board — among those dissenting.
The trustees approved two amendments — one to rescind the hike if sufficient state funding comes through, and another calling for reports over the next two years detailing how the additional dollars are spent.
Barring more funding, annual in-state tuition will increase by $270, from $5,472 to $5,742. Similar increases were approved for non-resident tuition, along with increases in graduate, doctoral and teacher-credential programs. The changes are projected to generate $77.5 million in the 2017-18 school year.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White told the board that he had no choice in asking for more tuition.
“I don’t bring this forward with an ounce of joy. I bring it out of necessity,” White said as students in the audience booed.
A staff report says the CSU “remains committed to keeping costs as low as possible for students. More than 60 percent of all CSU undergraduate students receive grants and waivers to cover the full cost of tuition. Nearly 80 percent of all CSU students receive some form of financial assistance.”
Those percentages will be maintained even with a tuition increase, CSU’s chief financial officer told the board, in part because $39 million in financial aid will be added.
But many students said they still can’t afford an increase. Before the meeting, dozens gathered outside the CSU Chancellor’s office, where a mock graveyard of headstones featuring the names of each of the CSU campuses was set up.
“The more we pay, the longer we stay,” students chanted, saying working more hours meant they couldn’t attend the classes needed to graduate.
Dozens of students in graduate caps and gowns made their way inside the board room, some wearing signs around their necks showing the amount of student debt they had accrued.
They periodically interrupted the meeting to shout “Chancellor White, do what’s right!” or “mic check” when they disagreed with comments by the trustees.
“Students are exhausted and they’re just fighting for a way to survive,” a Cal State Fullerton student told the board during public comment. “We need you guys to help.”
Another rapped an expletive-laced criticism of the trustees, calling them blood-sucking vampires, while others sat quietly snapping their approval.
A group known as the Students for Quality Education say that while tuition has been frozen for four years, the cost of attending CSU increased by 283 percent between 2002 and 2012.
“We pay for housing, we pay for textbooks, we pay for food,” a representative of the California State Student Association told the board.
The rep objected to people comparing the $270 to expenses like drycleaning and movie tickets, saying many students had no cash for those kind of luxuries and were choosing between paying rent or eating dinner.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal released in January included a $157.2 million increase in state funding for the CSU system, but it was still $167.7 million short of what the CSU had requested. In addition to the tuition increase, CSU officials said they plan to continue lobbying for increased funding from the state.
“With the historic gains made in four-year and six-year graduation rates, the aggressive targets set out in Graduation Initiative 2025, and the state recently focusing on these same goals, CSU arguments for increased state funding have … never been stronger,” according to the CSU staff report. “While additional state funding is the preferred course, the state allocation will not be known until a final budget agreement is reached in June 2017.”
Trustee Peter Taylor said he was embarrassed by the extent to which Brown and the state had underfunded the university system, a funding gap that staff put at $425 million for the last four years. But Taylor said he felt compelled to vote for the tuition increase to ensure that the university system didn’t slip into mediocrity.
Rendon put the problem back in the board’s lap, saying the trustees got what they asked for from the state two years ago.
“If this system needed more money, they should have asked for more money,” Rendon said, calling the board’s current stance “opportunistic.”
Newsom urged the board to force the state’s hand and let the legislature back up its professed support for higher education.
“We’ve become excellent sheep,” Newsom said. “I think the smart decision today is to say no.”
The lieutenant governor said the board could always meet again after the state acted, but the chancellor said the decision couldn’t be delayed until May given administration of financial aid and the schedule for fall admissions.
CSU’s chief financial officer said that without the revenue, fewer courses would be available and students would need more time to graduate and said the vote came at a “critical juncture” for the state system.
“The revenue generated by this increase will allow us to add faculty, courses, advisers and other resources to improve students’ opportunities for success,” CFO Steve Relyea said, adding a promise to help students. “We will ensure that students who require the most financial assistance will not face any additional burden associated with the tuition increase.”
Another trustee had suggested looking elsewhere for savings, including delaying capital improvements.
“Is it the case on a $7 billion budget that we can’t find some other savings?’ Douglas Faigin asked, before telling his colleagues he would vote no. It’s the wrong message, it’s the wrong time and, most importantly, it’s the wrong decision.”
Trustee Jane Carney said the university had already deferred maintenance and the results were apparent on campus. She worried that the board could lose in “(playing) a game of chicken” with the state and offered the two amendments as a compromise.
Virtually all of the trustees acknowledged a struggle in making a decision.
Lateefah Simon told her fellow trustees that “$270 doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but for some folks it is,” saying she had gotten calls from about 500 students and their parents.
She acknowledged that “our buildings are falling apart” and faculty are underpaid, but added, “Three weeks ago I was going to vote yes, and I just can’t.”
Maggie White, the one student trustee with a vote on the board, said she works two jobs, but it was the tuition proposal that had her losing sleep.
“I’m very worried about the state of public education in California,” White said, telling the board she was concerned that students who might otherwise be the first in their family to attend college would be priced out of the state system.
“We know that our students are hungry, they are going homeless, they are waiting insane times to see mental health counselors,” she said.
The California Faculty Association also disagreed with the increase, calling it a tax on students who may already be working 30 hours a week, and saying the burden should be on the state.
“We want the state to increase the student budget,” association President Jennifer Eagan told City News Service outside the board room. “This is an investment in the future.”
In January, the University of California Board of Regents approved a roughly 2.5 percent tuition increase for the 2017-18 academic year, raising base in-state tuition from $11,220 to $11,502, along with a $54 increase in the student services fee, from $1,074 to $1,128.
Out-of-state UC students will pay the same increases in base tuition and fees, along with a $1,332 jump in supplemental tuition, which will increase to $28,014. The total increase for non-resident students will be $1,668.
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Buena Park, has introduced a bill that would ban tuition increases at state and community colleges until 2020.
“It is my belief that funding our systems of higher education should not be done on the backs of students and their families,” Quirk-Silva wrote in a letter urging the CSU board to vote against the tuition hike. “For this reason, we strongly oppose this tuition increase which would continue to put a burden on low-income and middle-class families.”
—City News Service
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