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Despite scorching verbal jabs and impassioned pleas from students, the trustees of the California State University system voted 15-5 Wednesday to approve raising tuition by 6% annually over a five-year period starting in the 2024-25 academic year.
Sacramento State student Michael Lee-Chang joined dozens of CSU students who made the trek to Long Beach yesterday to comment at the trustees’ meeting. Lee-Chang said he was furious about the decision.
“It was mentally draining to watch the Board of Trustees meeting and hearing each trustee talk about their own difficult upbringing and how moved they were by students’ public comments, yet voting yes to a tuition increase that could lock out who knows how many students from the nation’s most affordable and diverse public university system,” he said. “They refused to delay the vote to properly research the adverse effects of the tuition increase and refused to reduce the duration of the tuition increase to three or four years.”
He added: “It’s careless and disgusting; it doesn’t feel like they care about students at all.”
Facing an impending structural deficit of $1.5 billion, many trustees said they had to focus on long-term financial stability. Tuition and allocations from the state’s general fund are CSU’s major sources of revenue.
“We do not want to be forced to diminish the CSU, and what we have been doing with our budgets is deferring costs, not filling vacancies, deferring maintenance,” said Wenda Fong, the chair of the board of trustees. “It has constantly built up and built up and built up. We need to address this now.”
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester assembled a team of people last year to look at how to build a sustainable financial model for CSU, and that advsiory group recommended tuition increases and outlined different methods of implementing them.
The cost of educating CSU students has risen quite a bit over the years, according to a report to the advisory team, because many students are among the first in their families to go to college and attended high schools that didn’t prepare them for the rigors of college courses.
This trend is not unique to CSU, the report noted, and colleges around the nation are offering additional educational and support services to help a more diverse student population. The CSU staff said they planned to set aside money from any tuition increase to expand upon this work with students.
The new tuition revenue will be allocated to address specific student needs — tutoring, advising, additional course offerings, as well as services that support student basic needs and mental health, CSU leaders said in a statement sent to The Bee.
The advisory team studying a sustainable financial path for CSU met for eight months and issued a lengthy report, but Lee-Chang said he had found few students at Sac State who knew that the board of trustees was considering a tuition hike. As part of his grassroots organizing work, Lee-Chang said he had spoken to 1,000 Sac State students about the proposed tuition increase.
It was difficult even to find the Q&A that officials had put on the CSU website, he said, where they posted answers to questions that the staff and trustees were frequently fielding. Lee-Chang said Koester and other trustees should have been communicating all findings with the 460,000 students on CSU’s 23 campuses.
Even with the added monies from tuition, the CSU staff and trustees said, the university system would still need additional funding from the state to close expected budget gaps.
Student Trustee Jonathan Molina Mancio, a graduate of California State University, Dominguez Hills, voted against the tuition hike, but he said that trustees were stuck between a sword and a rock on this vote. If they fell forward, he said, they would stab themselves, and if they fell backward, they would slam against stone.
When his fellow trustees asked what he might need as he fielded student concerns, Molina Mancio said he would like to have a communications plan.
California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond also opposed the tuition increase. Kounalakis urged her fellow trustees to take more time to consider the hardship of tuition increases, and Thurmond supported an amendment proposed by Student Trustee Diana Aguilar-Cruz to curtail the increases at four years. Both attempts failed to garner support.
The CSU Chancellor’s Office said that, if the tuition increase was approved, they would commit to inviting student representatives to join them in an assessment of the hikes’ effects in 2027. The trustees also would have to authorize any tuition changes in the 2029-30 academic year, CSU leaders said, and they could vote to revisit the scheduled increases at any time.
The trustees said their plans add financial aid funds that would be aimed at ensuring that no student would have to quit school because of the hike. Trustee Julia Lopez said that the staff will be assessing the overall cost of attending college to ensure they are offering students help with getting housing, food, books and other basic needs.
In the current 2023-24 academic year, CSU tuition is $5,742. It will be $6,084 in 2024-25, $6,450 in 2025-26, $6,840 in 2026-27, $7,248 in 2027-28 and $7,682 in 2028-29.
The tuition would total $34,304 over five years, up about 20% from the total that students would pay if tuition remained the same as the current school year.
The approval of the tuition increase allows Mildred Garcia, currently the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, to avoid stepping into a fight with students the moment she takes the reins as the next chancellor of California State University. Garcia is familiar with the CSU system, having led Fullerton State and Cal State Dominguez Hills in the past.