Our View: State, chancellor must step up for CSUs and students

March 5, 2014 

CW CSU Opening 1

Students walk around the Stanislaus State campus on the first day of the semester on Jan. 27 in Turlock.

CHRISTOPHER WINTERFELDT — Merced Sun-Star

Timothy P. White had a fairly uneventful first year settling in as the chancellor of the California State University system. He began his new job in late 2012, not long after the passage of Proposition 30, the governor’s tax hike measure that promised to, among other things, stop a 5 percent tuition increase.

Since then, no strikes, no scandals, no embarrassing incidents.

It’s a good track record after some years of turmoil, one that indicates the CSU board of trustees was wise to choose the former chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, as successor to Charles Reed. To maintain that, he should be wary of “student success” fees, which are starting to crop up like toadstools after a spring rain across the 23-campus system.

Nine campuses have instituted this fee: East Bay, San Jose, San Luis Obispo and six others in Southern California, one of which White approved last year. Now officials at CSU campuses in Fresno, Fullerton, Dominguez Hills and San Diego are looking at student success fees, ranging from $200 to $500. CSU Stanislaus has no plans for such a fee.

Additional fees on those campuses should not be allowed and the practice should be stopped before it spreads any further.

The reason the particular fees are dangerous is that they are an end-run around tuition hikes, which must get approval from the board of trustees. This fee needs approval only from White.

This fairly new CSU phenomenon started spreading in 2011 at the height of deep state budget cuts and the student backlash at the constant tuition hikes. In the past decade, CSU tuition has more than doubled and now stands at $5,472 a year. At the same time, the state started cutting higher-ed spending by about $1 billion. Now that the economy has improved, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators are reversing that trend.

Student fees are nothing new, of course, and typically cover some type of service. There are mandatory fees for health services and student activities and optional fees, such as those for student ID cards and parking permits. But student success fees aren’t tied to a particular service or specific student. Instead, the money goes to fund the academics and operations of the campus, something that should be supported by taxes or tuition.

Nor are the fees consistent statewide; it’s pretty much a figure that each campus determines. Fees at CSU campuses already have great variability. Cal State Monterey Bay, for example, has the lowest combined tuition and free structure of all CSUs at $5,963, and San Luis Obispo has the highest at $8,724.

It is possible the four current student success fee proposals will never get to White’s desk. The proposed fees must go through a multistep process. Even then the chancellor can send the proposals back for more student input.

The best outcome is that these new fee proposals die long before then, like the $250 student success fee Sonoma State officials dropped earlier this year after students protested.

During the recession, students and their families dug deeper into their pockets. Now that the economy is better and Californians have approved a tax hike, it’s the state’s turn. “We asked students and their families to step up during the recession and now we need to relieve the pressure on them,” said Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, a point he has stressed to CSU officials.

There’s no debate that the CSU system needs more money for instruction. But making it up by nickel-and-diming students and their families is unfair and counterproductive. The Legislature and White need to step up for students before sticking them for more.

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