Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Tuition increases hurt middle-class families

The California State University trustees will be meeting in Long Beach today to consider an additional student fee increase of 12 percent effective this fall term.

The facts regarding this decision are essentially this: In January, the governor’s budget proposed a $500 million (18 percent) reduction in state funding for CSU for the 2011-12 fiscal year, the lowest level of state support since 1999. On June 30, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the 2011-12 budget acts, which further reduced state support for the CSU by $150 million. This means the total reduction in state support is $650 million.

In addition, the enacted budget package includes the possibility of an additional cut of $100 million in Dec. 2011, based on whether state revenues fall short of budget act assumptions. If this further reduction happens, the one-year loss for CSU would be 27 percent, the lowest point since 1997, despite inflation and the fact that CSU is serving approximately 90,000 more students.

If the trustees approve the 12 percent increase (which is likely), in addition to the 10 percent increase approved last November, tuition for a full-time undergraduate plus campus-based fees (averaging $950) for the 2011-12 academic year would average about $6,422.

In 2009-10, 266,000 students, 60 percent of the CSU’s student population, received financial aid. The average award was $10,694. Tuition fee waivers, state university grants, Cal Grants, Pell Grants and other financial aid programs help the majority of students and families offset their educational expenses.

Additionally, one-third of the revenue generated from the tuition fee is designated for financial aid to the neediest students. For the remaining 40 percent of CSU students who will be paying the adjusted charges, the rate would still be among the lowest of CSU’s public comparison institutions and substantially lower than the comparison average of $8,682 for the 2010-11 academic years (including campus-based fees).

As a trustee, my biggest concern is the devastating effects these tuition fee increases are having on middle-class students and families who do not qualify for financial aid — those 40 percent who are picking up the tab and are caught in the middle. What value added do these students receive for their tuition increase?

Priority registration? No!

Guaranteed classes? No!

A state tax credit? No! (If they make under $180,000 a year, they do qualify for a federal tax credit.)

Predictability of tuition increases to budget for their college education? No!

Given the catastrophic economic situation we are facing, I strongly believe that there are no “sacred cows.” Everything needs to be put on the table.

The CSU system, the largest system of higher education in the nation, has a noble and proud heritage of being the “People’s University.” Our access to excellent programs for students has been the economic engine of California. The mission of CSU is to provide high-quality affordable higher education to meet the changing work-force needs of California, making the CSU indispensable to California’s economic prosperity and diverse communities.

For every dollar the state invests in CSU, the CSU returns $5.43.

To the credit of Chancellor Charles Reed, the 23 campus presidents, faculty and staff, and local community support, the CSU system has managed to stay afloat, despite draconian budget reductions. I am cognizant of the fact that we must all share in the pain of these most difficult economic times.

However, the CSU system and our students are taking a disproportionate share of the budget cuts. Without a commitment to higher education from the state of California, the “People’s University” will no longer be able to ensure access and excellence to our students. The consequences will be profound and to the detriment of us all.

Dr. Peter G. Mehas is a member of the California State University Board of Trustees.