In a mock “funeral” for the California State University system, about 30 Cal Poly students joined fellow protesters throughout the CSU system in a “Reclaim the CSU” day of action that opposed possible future annual tuition increases to make up for budget uncertainties and gaps in covering costs.
The Students for Quality Education, a CSU-wide student movement for educational rights in higher education, coordinated a “die-in” in which they pretended to collapse to represent a symbolic death of the CSU system, which they say is becoming privatized.
The demonstration took place outside Cal Poly’s Administration Building after a rally that called for opposing the CSU’s consideration of a sustainable financial model that could increase tuition each year if implemented; a perceived lack of funding for ethnic, gender and sexuality programs across the CSU; and the ongoing student success fees, which help pay for operational costs to make up for financial hardships.
“We believe that the state of California should be upholding its duty to fund the California State University to ensure that (the CSU) can remain accessible and affordable as it was outlined in the original Master Plan for education in 1960,” said Matt Klepfer, a SQE member and protester. “This particular proposal is in stark contrast to that vision and would essentially kill the CSU in that it provides basically a statement from the CSU to the Legislature saying that we can fund ourselves by charging students tuition.”
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The sustainable financial model, compiled and recommended by a chancellor’s task force led by two CSU university presidents and a CSU executive vice chancellor, addresses ways the system can remain financially viable as state funding falls short of providing enough money to operate the system.
We believe that the state of California should be upholding its duty to fund the California State University to ensure that (the CSU) can remain accessible and affordable as it was outlined in the original Master Plan for education in 1960.
Matt Klepfer, Cal Poly student protester
The report suggests that the CSU board consider “predictable and incremental adjustments to tuition and fees that maintain purchasing power in the face of inflationary increases over time” to help offset shortfalls in times of economic decline.
No set date has been scheduled for the CSU Board of Trustees to address the proposed financial model, said Toni Molle, the CSU’s spokeswoman. No tuition increases will be implemented this year or next; CSU tuition has remained stable the past four years, Molle added.
The CSU lost about $1 billion in cuts across the system between 2008 and 2011, and its budget remains $135 million below prerecession levels, according to the CSU. The CSU says it also faces $2.6 billion in deferred maintenance costs because of budget constraints.
“It is our belief that the current financial model is not sustainable in the long run and now threatens access to the high-quality education offered by CSU campuses,” the report states.
State funding covers about 53 percent of the CSU’s operating costs, which totals $5.1 billion. About 41 percent comes from tuition, and about 6 percent comes from application fees and various other student fees.
The CSU educates more than 460,000 students and graduates more than 100,000 each year from its 23 campuses. The average annual tuition cost for CSU undergraduates is $5,472, with an additional $1,343 for student costs.
However, at Cal Poly those fees bring the cost of a California resident’s tuition to a total of $9,000 per year, compared with a total of about $4,349 in undergraduate tuition in 2006-07.
“A California State University education remains one of the most affordable options for students seeking to better themselves through higher education,” Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said. “A Cal Poly degree continues to provide one of the best returns on investment among all undergraduate programs in the U.S.”
Lazier also said Cal Poly has not reduced funding or resources related to programs promoting multicultural, gender and sexuality studies.
Klepfer said that students, however, should not be the ones bearing the burden of covering budgetary shortfalls in a system that was designed in the 1960s to offer free tuition.
“We need to fight for increased public support,” Klepfer said.
Students are also upset by increases in administrative pay that have taken place CSU-wide.
It is our belief that the current financial model is not sustainable in the long run and now threatens access to the high-quality education offered by CSU campuses.
CSU Sustainable Financial Model task force report
At Cal Poly, student fees have risen by 45 percent since 2010, while administrative spending rose by 55 percent during the same time period, according to Students for Quality Education.
“Too much money is going to administrative positions that we don’t need,” Erica Hudson, a rally leader, said.
In the past six years, Cal Poly has raised spending on management salaries and benefits by about $10 million and increased management positions by about 50 percent.
Student protesters also called for eliminating student success fees that help pay for instructional costs, noting they were designed to help cover lost funding during the recession. At Cal Poly, those fees account for about $15 million per year.
Cal Poly officials didn’t respond directly to questions about the increase of spending on administrative pay in recent years or student success fees.
“Cal Poly is pleased that its students are passionate about their education and willing to speak their mind about maintaining its quality,” Lazier said. “... Cal Poly will continue to work closely with the CSU chancellor and his leadership team as they determine how best to continue providing and maintaining the high quality of this important public resource.”