Since 2008, student success fees have been introduced at 12 of the 23 California State University campuses to offset budget cuts.
This fee has stirred up controversy, ranging from editorials in the Los Angeles Times to a student protest on Nov. 13. Dozens of CSU students from across the state rallied outside Chancellor Timothy P. White’s office in Long Beach as a meeting was held for the Board of Trustees, which meets six times a year.
The student success fee is a type of campus-based annual mandatory fee that must be paid by a student to enroll or attend a campus of the CSU – as determined by that campus or the Chancellor – and ranges from $35 at Dominguez Hills State University to $780 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, according to a CSU report.
The money raised by the fees has been used differently at each CSU campus: some have been used to hire instructors and advisors, install campus WiFi, extend library hours, award athletic scholarships and attend to other individual campus needs. These allocations concern students, staff, and faculty, because these fees cover what has been historically covered by tuition.
Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association and a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles, said she opposes the student success fees.
“This is transferring the responsibility of funding higher ed from all of us together to individuals,” she said to the Sacramento Bee. “[It’s the] very worst thing you can possibly do.”
Although some students feel holes in their pockets, others support the fees, saying it improves university life by adding classes and faculty.
“We’re increasing over 30 different sections of classes in the next semester,” said Cal State Fullerton Student Body President Harpreet Singh Bath to NBC. “[We also] revamped our student advising to make sure that students don’t fall into the pitfalls that force them to stay longer [than their intended goal of graduation].”
However, one of the students protesting was second-year hospitality management student Courtney Yamagiwa from Cal State Long Beach.
“The funds aren’t being used to help us,” said Yamagiwa to NBC. “They’re hindering us, making us take out more student loans, and put on more work hours, and making us have a longer time at the university.”
Yamagiwa is a member of Students for Quality Education, a student-led group at 16 CSU campuses pushing for full-funded universities that would eliminate the need for student fees. SQE created a handbook with titles such as “Student Debt: I’m Not A Loan” to spur student awareness.
“Most students don’t even know that the success fee even exists,” said Yamagiwa.
In an SQE survey of the 12 campuses with student success fees, 49 percent of those student populations were aware of the fee. The student response rate was only 20 percent.
However, Stephanie Thara, a public affairs communications specialist for the Chancellor’s Office, said whether the fees were transparent is “really a matter of perception.”
“Sometimes students don’t hear about it, they don’t read the newspaper, but it was out there,” said Thara.
Where transparency is one issue of controversy, another concern was lack of legitimacy in conducting student voting.
The CSU reports that student voice was restricted when 10 of the 12 campuses with success fees did not have student referendums. Of the two with referendums, one was restricted to those who attended consultation meetings.
Concerns have been raised in state legislature. In June, Governor Jerry Brown issued a moratorium that no additional student success fees can be implemented till Jan. 1, 2016.
In addition, the legislature asked White to conduct a review of these fees and to make a recommendation to the CSU Board of Trustees about changes to the fee policy.
The recommendations were heard in the Nov. 13 Board of Trustees meeting. It consisted of four main points:
1. A rigorous consultation process must take place at CSUs to inform and educate students on the uses, impact, and cost of a proposed student success fee.
2. A requirement from each campus to have a transparent, online accountability protocol that clarifies the decision process and allocation of fees.
3. A binding student vote for all students where all who are eligible to vote in student government elections are eligible to vote on the student success fee proposal.
4. A sunset provision.
These recommendations will be voted on Jan. 1.