Rising CSU fees curbed slightly by 2004 compact

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The California State University is in the first year of a 2004 compact between the system, the UC and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that looks to stabilize rising student fees, which have gone up about 68 percent in the last five years partly because of state budget shortfall.

Still, some students express concern that even with the compact, agreed to without student input, high tuition could jeopardize access to higher education.

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and UC President Robert Dynes agreed to the governor’s six-year compact that aims to, among other things, increase the base budget of the CSU by 3 percent through 2006-07 and beyond, and increase enrollment by 2.5 percent through 2010-11, according to the CSU.

Mark Weber, chair of legislative affairs for the California State Student Association, said he believes rising student fees are a move in the wrong direction. He said he feels that as tuition rises, more students will have to rely on loans for aid to enroll or stay enrolled.

“Tuition is going up and that ability of students to keep up with that is in jeopardy,” Weber said. “We’re basically being used to absorb part of the state’s economic shortfalls.”

Colleen Bentley-Adler, CSUN spokesperson, said the compact would provide better access to higher education, not only though its ability to provide more predictable fee increases for students, but also through financial aid, which has gone up during the past few years as a result.

“The compact gives us funding so we can attract more students,” Bentley-Adler said. “We’ve continued to take 33 percent of funding for financial aid. We are providing more awards.”

The compact proposed fee increases of 14 percent in 2004-05, 8 percent in 2006-07, and 8 percent in 2007-08. The CSU recently approved the 2006-07 budget, including the fee hike.

One of the primary reasons for the compact was to keep fee increases “stable,” which had spiked between as high as 30 percent for 2003-04 to as low as 8 percent in the last five years.

Average CSU student fees have increased 68 percent since 2001-02, when they were at $1,877. Since 1990-91, total student fees have increased 265 percent.

Weber, a senior political science major from CSU San Marcos, said he feels that college could soon not be a feasible option for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

“(In the beginning), the CSU was designed to be (an) affordable education for all residents of California. We are departing from that goal,” he said.

Bentley-Adler said funding for the CSU comes from four main sources: the state General Fund, student fees, private donations, and contracts and grants.

“The trustees want to provide a reasonable increase for parents and students so they can plan for next year,” Bentley-Adler said of the compact. “This is set out for the next five years and says what we need to do so that we can provide high-quality education to our students.”

Bentley-Adler said there was no student input on the compact because it was governor-initiated.

“It’s his compact with us,” he said.

CSUN Associated Students President Chad Charton said student input is a necessity and should have been included in the compact.

“Student input is always necessary because all too often there are indirect and unaccounted for items that aren’t brought to attention when things are being brought together,” Charton said. “You forget about the possibilities and consequences.”

Charton said the CSU is operating at an inadequate level of funding because of the deficit, and students are the ones who are filling the void.

“The cost of living has risen. Inflation continues to offset. The student fee increase doesn’t warrant that. It was bad timing,” Charton said in regards to raising student fees at the same time that executives and president’s salaries were raised. The duel raises – fees and salaries – were both approved at a recent Board of Trustees meeting.

“The state doesn’t adequately fund the system,” Charton said. “Someone’s gotta make that up, (and) unfortunately it’s the students.”

On the CSU website, a page titled “Five Reasons to Support the Compact,” the third reason states: “The compact sets a floor, not a ceiling, for the CSU’s annual budget.”

The description explains that nothing prevents the CSU from asking for more money, and nothing prevents both the Legislature and the governor from agreeing to such increases.

Weber said he feels, however, that the agreement has turned into a ceiling.

“The compact is providing easy answers,” Weber said. “We’re not asking for what we need. We’re just taking what we can get.”

CSSA members and CSU students traveled to the October Board of Trustees meeting when the most recent fee and executive pay hikes were approved to give their testimonials on how the new student fees would affect students at the various campuses.

“It was pretty successful,” Weber said. “We got commitments from some trustees that agree with us. They want to work with us in the future.”

Kristyan Kouri, co-vice president for lecturers of the CSUN chapter of the California Faculty Association, said money for education could be obtained through means other than from raising student fees through a compact, which jeopardizes access to college.

“I think it’s a sham,” said Kouri, a sociology and women’s studies professor. “We should be able to come up with the money without raising student fees.”

Kouri said that if students want to make a difference, they should be politically active and place calls to their elected officials in the Legislature and voice their disapproval.

Kouri said the wealthiest Californians can sometimes write off up to a million dollars on their vacation homes, thus lowering their tax bills.

“That loophole could be closed,” Kouri said.

When Bentley-Adler was informed about Kouri’s idea to fund higher education by taxing the wealthiest, she suggested that the comment be directed to someone higher.

“If that’s her suggestion, she should give that to the governor,” she said. “Polls have said people don’t want a tax increase. If she wants that, she should contact the governor.”

For an assignment in her freshman speech communication course in November, Michelle Mooney, sophomore deaf studies major, presented a persuasive speech in opposition to the student fee increases.

“I’m not totally against tuition increase,” Mooney said. “I just don’t like that fact that it has increased 58 percent in five years.”

Mooney said it’s been difficult to pay for her college education because she didn’t qualify for financial aid and had to rely on an unsubsidized federal student loan.

The solution to combating the fee increases is to speak to the government and to the Board of Trustees, Mooney said.

“I really think that when the government takes money away from higher education, they need to consider what it does to students,” Mooney said.

Mooney conducted a survey in her speech class and found that almost all of the students in her course had been affected by the increase. Most of the students took fewer units because they had to work in to pay their tuition, Mooney said.

Mooney also said she feels that many students are unaware of the specifics regarding the fee increases and why they are occurring so continuously.

“A lot of kids just know it increased, but they don’t really think anything of,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of students know how much it increased.”

Cynthia Ramos can be reached at cmr7871@csun.edu.