According to a recent lawsuit, students across all California State University (CSU) campuses have paid to go to school — twice.
State university students have filed a lawsuit against the CSU Board of Trustees claiming the universities violated contractual laws by charging them twice for tuition and not providing ample time for students to secure funds to pay for school. The case is being held in San Francisco Superior Court.
Travis Donselman, a graduate student from CSU San Bernardino; and Samantha Adame, an undergrad from San Francisco State University, are named as plaintiffs in the case.
The plaintiffs originally filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented the nine schools that had not yet collected the additional fees from having to do so. The judge ruled against the motion on Aug. 31.
Donselman said that the CSU Board acted illegally by charging students for tuition once in June and again in August without providing a warning that fees were going to increase substantially. Donselman said this was a violation of the contractual agreement between the students and the school.
If the students did not pay their second bill on time, they risked being dropped from their classes.
“For me as an MBA student, my fees were going up from $1,659 to over $4,000,” Donselman said. “I wrote Cal State San Bernardino President Albert Karnig and contacted lawyers immediately as I suspected the increases were illegal.”
A few years ago, a similar lawsuit was brought against the University of California (UC) schools in the case Kashmiri v. Regents of the University of California. Mohammad Kashmiri, a law student at UC Berkeley, filed that class action lawsuit alleging a breach of contract when the UC system began raising tuition costs without prior notice. The court ruled in favor of the students.
Donselman said that case inspired him to follow suit.
“I know the Kashimiri v. Regents case, in which the courts ruled in favor of the students and fundamentally changed the way the UCs increase fees,” Donselman said. “Now the UCs are very conscientious about making sure any fee increases do not abridge the rights of students.”
The Board of Trustees could not be reached for comment. According to its July agenda on committee finance, the “university faces an unprecedented reduction in state support and a 2009-10 budget deficit estimated at $584 million.”
In order to compensate for the loss of funds, the Board elected to implement additional fees for the fall 2009 semester and mandate faculty furloughs.
Seventy-nine million dollars, or one third of the money generated from the fee increase, the board said would go toward financial aid. The remaining $157 million “will help offset part of the $584 million budget deficit,” according to the CSU Web site.
It was also noted on the Web site that this semester, tuition increased “$672 for undergraduate students, $780 for teacher credential students and $828 for graduate students.
“The undergraduate State University Fee will go up from the current $3,354 to $4,026 per year. Including the current average campus fee of $801, CSU undergraduate students will pay approximately $4,827 per year, which continues to be the lowest fee rate among comparable institutions,” according to the CSU website.
Donselman remains hopeful that his lawsuit can overturn the fee increases.
“I do have serious concerns, though, if the MBA program is still affordable,” Donselman said. “I know several students who were planning on entering the MBA program at Cal State San Bernardino but now aren’t because they simply can’t afford it.”
Donselman said he agrees that the fee increases are necessary in light of the budget crisis in California but feels that, “the school still needs to follow the law like everyone else and do things orderly and properly, which for me means doing things legally.”
Alice Sunshine, communications director for the California Faculty Association, said the Board increased tuition 10 percent in May and again over 20 percent this semester, adding up to a 32 percent increase in tuition over less than a year.
Sunshine said the Board must, “understand the impact that the fee increase will have on student attendance and the continuation rate. You have to know what you’re doing to the students before you raise fees.”
Sunshine said the CSU schools are beneficial to students because they offer higher education at affordable rates. She said college-educated people are important to the economy. “California depends on people who have a higher education.”
Donselman does not see lack of funding as an excuse.
“The current state of the economy doesn’t excuse the school from honoring its contractual obligations and following the law. After all, we’re hurting too.”