CalState Schools Find the Sweet Smell of “Student Success Fees”

Monday, March 10, 2014

At the height of the Great Recession in 2011, officials at  California State University  colleges looked to relieve their budgetary crises by tapping their most vulnerable, shallow-pocketed stakeholders—students.

Nine of the university’s 23 campuses levied what they called “student success fees,” a transparent attempt to ding students without raising tuition or assigning more traditional fees, targeted at users of specific services. These all-purpose fees, which are spent on academics and operations traditionally paid for by tuition, have met with increasing resistance from students, who have found more allies as the improved economy has turned budget deficits into surplus.

Now, the Los Angeles Times says four more schools are preparing to add the fees that typically run between $200 and $500 a semester, despite promises by educators to rein in fee hikes in exchange for more money from Sacramento. Earlier in the year, Sonoma State dropped its plan to charge a $250 success fee after students protested.

The new schools are in Fresno, Fullerton, Dominguez Hills and San Diego.

Californians have had 30 years to get used to paying for college since the state started charging tuition and fees for what had once been deemed an inalienable right. Tuition at CalState schools, set by the Board of Trustees, is now $5,472 per academic year.

Fees vary from school to school but average $1,223. They are determined by individual campuses and are approved by the chancellor. Tuition has doubled and fees have increased 63% since 2007-08. Meanwhile, $1 billion in funding from the state disappeared during the bad years. 

But until recently, fees were targeted at specific services and activities, like parking permits, health services and student events.

Student success fees don’t pretend to do that.

An FAQ  for CalState San Marcos students explains: “The fee would be used to provide more course sections, more academic support and recreation opportunities.”

When asked why the fee wasn’t subject to a non-binding referendum of the student body, like other fees, the school explained it was in their best interest not to be bothered: “It has been determined that alternate consultation will provide the best opportunity for students to offer detailed feedback about the possible fee and how it might be used.”

In 2012, State Senator Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) introduced legislation that would have served student interests differently. Senate Bill 960 directly addressed the concerns of those who thought student success fees diminished the role of students in the education process.

The first sentence of the 15-line bill read, “California State University campus-based mandatory fees that are not specifically authorized by statute shall not be established without consideration by the applicable campus fee advisory committee and a vote of the student body.”

The law, which also addressed the reallocation of already-established fees, passed unanimously in the Senate and Assembly—after that line was removed.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

More Cal State Campuses Are Considering “Student Success Fees” (by Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times)

Chancellor White Must End CSU's “Student Success Fees”  (Fresno Bee editorial)

Bill Seeks More Student Control over CSU Fees (by Erica Perez, California Watch)

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