Cal State trustees approve controversial tuition hike

After a heated morning of debate and impassioned statements from students, professors and lawmakers, the California State University Board of Trustees voted 11 to 8 Wednesday to increase tuition as a way to fill a looming gap in state funding.

“I don’t bring this forward with an ounce of joy,” said Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White, addressing the packed meeting chamber. “I bring it with necessity.”

Dozens of students stood and shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” after the vote was taken. Some wiped away tears, while others hugged and vowed to take their fight to lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown, who have the power to ease the system’s budget woes.

“There are a lot of people looking at the CSU now and seeing this problem of affordability,” said Courtney Yamagiwa, a member of Cal State Long Beach’s Associated Students and the grass-roots activist group Students for Quality Education. “It’s not just students yelling anymore.”

Yamagiwa and her peers from across the system’s 23 campuses had gathered at dawn to protest any increase to their financial burden. They demonstrated throughout the morning with drumbeats and chants of, “The more we pay, the longer we stay!” They waved signs that stated the amount of their student debt and demanded: “Change the system,” “Keep college affordable.”

University leaders had hoped Brown’s January budget proposal would provide enough money to preserve the quality of the nation’s largest public university system. Instead, the additional state funding he allocated was less than half of what Cal State had requested.

Cal State’s decision follows the University of California regents’ 16-4 vote earlier this year to end a tuition freeze and approve a 2.5%, or $282, increase next school year.

At Cal State, the increase will amount to about 5%, or about $270 for in-state students. Tuition for out-of-state students as well as graduate and teacher credential programs also will go up.

These increases will generate $77.5 million in crucial net revenue, officials said. The more than 60% of Cal State students whose tuition is fully covered by grants and waivers will not be affected.

To give themselves some leeway, the trustees built into their vote the possibility of reconsidering their decision after the governor’s budget is set in June. Administrators, faculty and student leaders have been lobbying state lawmakers for months and remain hopeful Cal State might get more funding.

But if history is any indicator, the university system still will be grappling come June with escalating pressures to enroll more students, graduate them faster, offer thousands more classes and hire 400 more faculty — all with a smaller share of state dollars than in years past.

Even though the system’s campuses have enrolled 20,000 additional students since the recession, administrators said, 30,000 qualified applicants had to be turned away last year. Cal State also has a $2-billion backlog of building upgrades.

State funding covers about half of Cal State’s operating costs, compared with 80% in the 1990s, according to administrators. The system relies on tuition and fees from its 475,000 students to cover the rest.

During the recession, the state slashed nearly one-third of its support to Cal State. From 2006 to 2011, tuition more than doubled, to $5,472.

In exchange for a tuition freeze, Brown pledged annual increases, and the state has steadily restored funding in the last six years.

But growing demands have outpaced these increases, Cal State administrators said.

This year, Brown’s budget proposal allocates Cal State about $157.2 million in additional funding for the next fiscal year, which would raise the system’s total state support to about $3.6 billion. University officials estimate they need an extra $324.9 million.

These numbers charged Wednesday’s contentious debate. Peter Taylor, a trustee and chairman of the board’s finance committee, said his vote for the increase was based on a realistic view of what it took to preserve the university system’s priorities.

“We’re here because the state has consistently, persistently, underfunded this institution. It is embarrassing that we are stuck with this awful choice between access and quality,” he said, pounding the dais in frustration. “Our tenure track density is an embarrassment, our worn-out buildings are an embarrassment, our class size is going in the wrong direction. ... Quality costs money.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who also voted against the UC increase as an ex officio UC regent, challenged Cal State trustees to put the pressure back on state lawmakers. Voting to increase tuition, he said, “is letting them off the hook.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), who backed a sweeping financial aid proposal last week to help students graduate with less debt, defended the Legislature and said it did fully fund Cal State’s budget request two years ago. That the trustees were now talking about needing more money and turning to students to fill this gap seemed “absurd,” he said.

Lateefah Simon, a trustee who spent ten years working her way through college as a single mother, said she empathized with students and with “the staff and our chancellor trying to figure out how to fill holes with anguish.”

But in recent weeks, she said, she’d received more than 500 calls, emails and texts from anxious students and parents. “I was going to vote yes, and I just can’t,” she told her colleagues. “… I know exactly what these students are going through.”

During public comments, dozens of students spoke passionately of homelessness, hunger and the families they are supporting while going to school. Some said they juggled multiple jobs and worked more than 30 hours a week, even collecting empty bottles to make ends meet. They spoke of textbook costs as high as $240 — for a single subject.

Radhika Kataria, in her third year at Chico State majoring in public administration, had driven down to the meeting with about 15 other classmates and slept overnight in a nearby church in order to protest at dawn.

“It’s not fair to the students,” she said. “How do they expect us to graduate in time when we also have to work multiple jobs just to pay for college?”

rosanna.xia@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

5:30 p.m. This article has been updated throughout with student comments and details from Wednesday morning’s debate.

This article was originally published at 1:00 p.m.

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