June 16, 2024
Majority of the students interviewed for this story were unaware of the proposed tuition increase. While students generally understood the reasoning behind the proposed hike, most were still dismayed about it.

For Kaleb Casper, 18, the opportunity to go to college is a big one — for him and his parents who never had that experience. But their dream could soon get more expensive.

A possible annual 6% hike in tuition across the California State University (CSU) system, which Casper was previously unaware of, could force him to increase his college debt. While he receives some financial aid, a quarter of his tuition still isn’t covered, so he’ll have to take out student loans, and he plans to work through college to help support himself.

“It’s kind of scary because scholarships don’t just come out of nowhere,” said Casper, a freshman from Stockton who is focusing on environmental studies at San Jose State University. “I know my parents struggle a lot with keeping up with all my costs because I can’t obviously work full time … it’s hard for them and me.”

The hike, which the CSU Board of Trustees is expected to vote on next month, comes amid a $1.5 billion systemwide budget deficit, strike threats by CSU staff and faculty, and 18 months after former Chancellor Joseph I. Castro resigned over claims that he mishandled sexual harassment complaints during his time as president of Fresno State. The new chancellor, Mildred García, will take over in October.

San Jose State University students walk around the on-campus housing facilities on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

If approved, the hike would raise tuition for undergraduates beginning fall of 2024 by $342. The board would review the hike every five years. By the 2028-29 school year, tuition will have increased from $5,742 to $7,682.

CSU’s $1.5 billion funding gap doesn’t include a nearly $6 billion maintenance backlog across the 23 campuses. Officials have argued that the tuition hike is necessary since its other revenue source, the state budget, is volatile and dependent on the status of the California economy.

If approved, the amount of tuition-based awards would also increase and students who are receiving full non-loan financial aid would be unaffected, officials said. The proposal will generate $840 million within the first five years, with $280 million going to CSU’s State University Grant program for low-income students. The rest of the money is expected to help fund a number of initiatives in the CSU system, increased student services, and faculty, staff and executive pay.

Incoming chancellor García will receive a base salary of $795,000, with an annual deferred compensation of $80,000, a monthly auto allowance of $1,000 and a monthly housing stipend of $8,000. The former chancellor received a salary of $625,000, with $7,917 monthly housing and $1,000 monthly auto allowances. Officials have said that the chancellor’s salary will not impact the $1.5 billion budget gap, noting that executive salaries make up less than one percent of CSU’s total salaries and wage expenses.

But Dominic Treseler, president of the Cal State Student Association, said he and other students find the raise to be “ridiculous.”

“We find it totally inappropriate the idea that we are raising tuition largely to fund salary increases for our staff and faculty while our administrators see tens of hundreds of $1,000 raises year by year,” he said.

Many students last week were unaware of the proposed tuition increase. When told about it, reactions were mixed. While students generally understood the reason behind it, most were still dismayed about it.

“It’s just frustrating for us,” said Michelle Tran, 19, a second-year student at SJSU. “People already in this day and age don’t know why they should go (to college).”

Treseler said that reaching students to gather their opinions about the tuition hike has been difficult because most students are gone for summer break. But from what he has been told, one of the largest concerns is not understanding what benefits students will get for paying more.

San Jose State University students walk around the on-campus housing facilities on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

“The Chancellor’s Office has produced and presented to us a laundry list of things that we can expect to see … this tuition hike invested into,” said Treseler. “But the writing on the wall for us is, without some concrete statements and some concrete plans …, we don’t anticipate those funds being utilized for the things that we find important.”

Students tended to agree.

“I feel like the negative of it definitely outweighs what could possibly benefit me because again, it’s funding for them, not for me,” said Casper. “And if they have that big of a gap, it’s like even if they do improve the school, when does that come into effect? Like, am I going to graduate by that time?”

The sentiment was felt across the Bay. Jordan Walker, 18, a Cal State East Bay freshman from Stockton, chose his school for its computer science program and proximity to the Bay Area’s tech hubs. Walker, who was raised by a single Black mother and identifies himself as middle-to-low income, said that while he does have some scholarships, he will still have to pay out of pocket.

“Keep the students in mind and the parents who have worked hard,” said Walker. “Most students within two years of graduating high school default on their loans, so I think that if we raise the prices, that’s just not going to be good for these people who’ve worked so hard and so long to get into the schools.”