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CSU trustees hear protests of student fees, approve budget request

Students protest college fees outside a meeting of the California State University trustees in Long Beach on Thursday.
Students protest college fees outside a meeting of the California State University trustees in Long Beach on Thursday.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Trustees of the California State University deliberated whether to require a student vote on so-called success fees imposed at half of 23 campuses as a small group demonstrated outside their meeting in Long Beach Thursday.

The so-called student success fees range from $162 to $830 per year on top of tuition and other campus fees. Some students view the fees as tuition increases in disguise.

Recommendations from a working group to require a student vote on any new success fees won't be voted on until next year, but the issue highlighted continuing concerns about the affordability of higher education.

Community college student Jimmy Valdez told trustees the higher fees may keep him from transferring to a Cal State campus.

"I’m having trouble at the community college level. I am barely making it on financial aid. I am not even a member of the CSU system yet, but when I do transfer out, is it going to be accessible to me as a student?" he asked. "Have you forgotten about us the lower class students who cannot afford these continuous fee hikes?"

The discussion and public comments came as the trustees approved a $269 million budget request for 2015-2016 that is more than double the $119.5 million sought by Gov. Jerry Brown in a previous funding proposal. 

The Cal State budget request includes a 3 percent increase in salaries for Chancellor Timothy White and other top administrators. That's in line with what faculty and other union workers would get in the first year of labor agreements approved by the trustees Wednesday.

The budget request also includes funding for projected enrollment growth, employee compensation, student success and completion programs, and academic facilities. The request goes next to the state Department of Finance "to help shape the Governor's January budget proposal," the university said in a statement.

Much of Thursday's session was devoted to the success fees that have stirred discussion about the cost of attending Cal State.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, an ex-officio Cal State trustee, said he doesn’t oppose the success fees but wants the university administration to set some limits.

"I am worried that we are going to see a system that will begin to fray between the haves and the have nots, those who can absorb substantially more in success fees and those who certainly cannot," he said.

An advisory group recommended any new success fees only move forward after a campus vote by students. The group also suggested more transparency be provided on how the fees are helping students. Trustees may vote on the recommendations at their January meeting.