Students criticize Cal State tuition increase proposal

Stuart Palley/ KPCC

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A draft plan to buffer funding for the California State University system by raising tuition automatically each year attracted attacks from nearly all corners at Tuesday’s California State University trustee meeting in Long Beach.

“Automating student tuition fee increases increasingly treats students like ATMs, taking money from them and their families without having to be accountable for their actions,” former California Faculty Association President Lillian Taiz told trustees during open comment.

The tuition increase proposal is one of 15 strategies for the 23-campus system to maintain the quality of academic programs despite funding cuts that was laid out in a draft report of the Chancellor’s Task Force for a Sustainable Financial Model for the CSU, which is on track for approval in June. During Tuesday's meeting, the proposed tuition hike was the most talked about item on the draft plan.

The student tuition increase would tie yearly increases to the rate of inflation. Inflation was less than one percent last year but more than three percent in 2011.

That’s less than past tuition increases, which were enacted most recently for the 2012-13 school year. But students told the trustees that the automatic increase would make it more difficult for many students to access public higher education.

“That’s money out of our pockets, that’s food that we have to buy, that’s rent, all things pile up on each other,” said Cal State L.A. student Christian Torres.

Several trustees said they were concerned about the proposal.

“We also need to hear from the community and from the legislature and different people before imposing something like that,” said trustee Douglas Faigin.

Some trustees said an automatic increase would benefit students and their families because it would let them plan their budgets during their college careers.

“That [way] we don’t have any surprises that two years in, ‘oh yeah, because of some problems that we’re at the mercy of Sacramento, we now have to raise your tuition 20 percent,” said trustee Steven Stepanek.

Task force co-chair Elliot Hirshman told trustees the group did not intend to propose an automatic increase. But one trustee said the proposal’s wording said otherwise:

“The task force recommends that the Board of Trustees consider enacting small, annual systemwide tuition increases tied to the rate of inflation designed to maintain the purchasing power of the revenue collected and mitigate future large, unplanned tuition increases in response to state budget reductions in the face of economic uncertainty. Coupled with significantly increased general fund investment by the state, inflationary increases in tuition will improve the ability of the CSU to provide affordable access to a high-quality education for a growing number of students.”

An automatic tuition increase is far from a done deal and a hike for the next fiscal year is unlikely. Governor Jerry Brown is requiring Cal State keep tuition flat in order to receive a proposed $148 million funding increase next fiscal year.