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Proposal to raise CSU tuition annually moves to a board vote this September amid student opposition, frustration

Members of the California Faculty Association hold up signs in solidarity with students opposing tuition increases on July 11, 2023.
Michael Lee-Chang
Members of the California Faculty Association hold up signs in solidarity with students opposing tuition increases on July 11, 2023.

Updated July 12, 4:17 p.m.

Dozens of students from across the state arrived in Long Beach — where the California State University Board of Trustees have been meeting since July 9 — Tuesday morning, fueled by coffee and a drive to stop the CSU’s proposal to indefinitely raise tuition by 6% each year.

While the finance committee of the CSU Board of Trustees agreed to pass the proposal to the board at large this September, they did make one concession: Limiting the tuition increase to five years, at which point the board would have to reauthorize any further increases.

“We are prepared to keep fighting past this rally, and it will probably get bigger as time goes on with the school year starting,” said Sacramento State student Michael Lee-Chang, who helped organize the action and drove down to Long Beach to take part.

The CSU said in its FAQ for the proposal that the 60% of its students who have their tuition covered by non-loan financial aid would remain unimpacted by the increases.

The other 40% of its student population — about 183,000 students — would see gradual increases. A full-time undergraduate taking 6.1 units or more would pay $6,084 for tuition next year. With yearly increases, that would grow to $7,682 in the 2028-29 school year.

Courtesy of the California State University.
Courtesy of the California State University.

The multi-year tuition increase proposal was announced June 29, on the heels of a CSU report published this May showing the statewide school system had a $1.5 billion deficit. It also arrives at a time when the system is grappling with enrollment declines of more than 25,000 students during country-wide inflation.

As of last year, over half of Sacramento State’s nearly 31,000 students received some form of financial aid.

“We will [continue to] strive to help every student build a financial plan to support their academic plan,” said Sacramento State’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Ed Mills, on the possibility of raised tuition.

Mills also pointed to the CSU’s commitment to increase financial aid by approximately one-third of the new tuition revenue, along with the financial aid services like individualized counseling that the university already offers.

But two CSU-wide student organizations — Students for Quality Education and the Cal State Student Association, both opposed the proposal, noting that students are facing rising costs of living and the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impending impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down President Joe Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan.

‘We are not a bank’: Students push back

The rally on Tuesday morning was also a nod to solidarity with faculty members and staff who have been pressuring the system to negotiate a contract with higher wages. California Faculty Association members came to the event to support rallying students.

“The biggest point that we're trying to hone in [on] is that the CSU has failed us,” said Lee-Chang. “The CSU has failed not only students, but faculty and staff, because this budget deficit didn't just come out of nowhere … this is decades of funds going into wrong places for us to have landed us here.”

Lee-Chang, a rising sophomore, helped organize the morning’s rally through Students for Quality Education, a CSU-wide group that pushes for “a free, accessible, quality CSU for all.”

To him, “the amount [of the increase] doesn’t matter.”

“Any loss of dollars, it’s still going to feel like something,” he said.

CSU funding comes primarily from student tuition, which composes about 40% of the system’s revenue, and from the state’s general fund. In 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom committed to raising state support for CSU by 5% annually for the next five years, but the state itself also faces a budget deficit.

“Over the past two decades, tax revenues that support public higher education institutions have significantly fluctuated, with the trend towards a decrease in real dollars across the country and within California,” Trustee Ryan Storm said during a presentation Tuesday.
The increased reliance on student tuition to provide revenue is also related to the drop in state support, Storm added: In the 1980s, California’s share of the total CSU operating budget was 90%, which slipped to 80% in the mid-1990s and down to 50% in 2011.

While he again emphasized that 60% of students wouldn’t be impacted by the tuition increases, Lee-Chang said that framework minimizes the struggles students who could pay more will face.

“That’s still 40% of students … nearly 200,000 kids who will be affected,” he said. “I think putting it in percentages sometimes undermines the actual amount of Californian kids that are being affected.”

CSU Channel Islands student Angelmarie Taylor echoed Lee-Chang’s sentiments during public comment at the trustees’ meeting Tuesday morning, when she called the “sheer audacity” to propose the tuition increases “outrageous.”

“We are not statistics,” she said. “We are not a bank that you can tap into to fix your mistakes. We are real people with real lives and real families that are struggling to make ends meet.”

And in his Tuesday report to the trustees, San Jose State student and Cal State Student Association president Dominic Quan Treseler said the proposal does not serve students’ best interests, raising a number of concerns including a lack of a tandem commitment to improving financial aid and basic needs support.

“The principal stakeholders of this system are not its administrators, faculty members, or staff, but the students themselves,” Treseler said.

All CSSA members voted 23-0 on Sunday to oppose the tuition increase. Trustee Diana Aguilar-Cruz, the only student trustee present on Tuesday, said while she understands the necessity of tuition increases to fund student services, her duty is to uplift the voices of the students who elected her.

“I agree this proposal is great for business, it is great for privatization, but is it great ethically and morally for our students?” she said. “My vote is public comment. My vote is [for] those students who don’t have access to a vote and my vote is to honor the history of the CSU.”

She had asked the committee to move the timeline for the vote to November to offer students more time to digest and mobilize around the plan, which others — including CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester — pushed back against, citing the need to communicate with students and families about what to expect should the tuition increase be passed.

Instead, the timeline will remain such that the Board of Trustees will vote on the proposal this September. If it passes, the new increases will take effect starting August 2024.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Michael Lee-Chang’s name. It has since been updated.

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