As dozens of students protested, the California State University governing board Wednesday approved a two-step, 15% increase in tuition, saying it would use the funds to increase enrollment and classes.
About 40 demonstrators, including students, faculty and staff from several of the university's 23 campuses, held what they called a "protest carnival" outside the Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach. They urged the board to reject the increase, saying it would force students to shoulder too much of the cost of college.
The increases approved Wednesday will boost tuition for all students 5% for the rest of this school year and an additional 10% for next year. Basic full-time undergraduate tuition next year will rise to $4,884, in addition to campus fees that average about $1,000. The trustees voted overwhelmingly for both proposals. Student fees had already gone up 5% this fall.
Ruben Vazquez, a senior at Cal Poly Pomona, said the higher charges, which follow a 32% increase for last year, will compel him and many other students to take out additional student loans or defer their educations. Vazquez said he gets some financial aid but is also supported by his father.
"They say it's the only option, but they have become comfortable with raising student fees," said Vazquez, 21. "They say they're being affected by budget cuts and the recession, but they're also passing down the burden to those of us affected by the recession."
The tuition increases will raise an additional $27 million this year and $121.5 million next year. Cal State's proposed budget for 2011-12 asks the Legislature to "buy out" next year's increase by adding enough extra funding to the university's budget that students don't have to pay it.
The trustees said the new money was essential to maintain the quality of a Cal State education and would allow campuses to add classes and increase enrollment despite reduced state support in previous years.
"This is a time of a hyper-competitive global economy where we need to have more students have access to higher education," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who is a trustee. "This motion will allow 30,000 more students to have access to college, it will add more courses and more convenient times. A four-year degree will mean a four-year degree."
Several campus presidents also spoke in favor of the tuition hikes.
For Cal State Northridge, the higher charges will mean an extra $11 million for school operations next year, President Jolene Koester said. "It makes a huge difference for academic affairs," Koester said. "How we plan for our students is highly contingent on the actions of this board today."
But many students said they were not persuaded that the higher charges would improve the quality of their educations.
Osvaldo Ortiz, a junior at Cal State Northridge, said that despite previous tuition hikes, he was unable to get into any of the political science classes he needed this semester. "My four-year education plan will probably turn into a five- or six-year plan," said Ortiz, 20. "All students in California are going to be suffering."
Douglas Domingo-Foraste, a Cal State Long Beach classics professor, joined the student protest and argued that the trustees' action would reduce rather than increase access for many students.
"So many students and their families work two or three jobs to be able to afford college, and I think the people on the Board of Trustees have no conception of what it's like to be on the margin," Domingo-Foraste said. "When a student can't take a class because they're having to work more, you're providing less access."
Cal State received $260 million more in state funding this school year than the previous year, as well as about $106 million in one-time federal stimulus money. But officials said those gains failed to make up for previous budget cuts.
Officials said that even with the latest increases, Cal State tuition is lower than at many comparable institutions. And they estimate that 180,000 undergraduates — about 50% — will receive waivers or financial aid to cover the higher amounts.
Officials rejected suggestions that the university is not doing enough to cut expenses. The chancellor's office has trimmed spending by $6 million annually, cut 95 positions and reduced travel expenses by $10 million, said Robert Turnage, assistant vice chancellor for budget.
But with the state Legislative Analyst's Office now projecting a $25-billion shortfall next year, Cal State officials may need to do more, said Steve Boilard, the office's director of higher education.
"Most state agencies don't have the ability to raise money, but Cal State does have the ability to raise fees," Boilard said. "In this budget environment, we'd expect for Cal State, as well as other public agencies, to reduce the costs of what they do rather than increase them."