5 ways to look at latest CSU tuition increase

Most readers will say there is no way to soften the blow of another tuition increase for the California State University system. But we’re trying hard to stay positive here, so let’s give it a try.

First, the bad news: The 12 percent increase approved by the CSU Board of Trustees today is the third increase in three years. The increase affects 412,000 students at all 23 campuses throughout the state. Undergraduate tuition will increase by $588 per year and graduate tuition by $720.

That is a large chunk of change – but a necessary one in response to the recent hacking of $650 million from the state, a 23 percent year-over-year decrease in support to the CSU. This represents the lowest state funding level since 1998-99, while the CSU serves 72,000 more students.

This latest tuition increase adds fuel to the recent U.S. Department of Education survey finding that CSU campuses are experiencing some of the fastest growing tuitions in the nation.

But amidst the gloom, there are five bright spots in all of this:

1) Half won’t feel the pinch

Nearly half of the CSU students in the state – including at CSUB – will NOT be affected by this tuition increase because of financial aid. Most students with family incomes of $70,000 or less will pay zero tuition increase.

2) What about the other half?

The Sacramento Bee editorialized this week that the tuition increase represents, in a way, a tax hike for middle-income families who aren’t wealthy enough to absorb the tuition increase or poor enough to qualify for full financial aid. However, those not fully covered by financial aid will also benefit from new federal tax credits available for family incomes of up to $180,000.

3) We’re not alone – and it could be worse

The state budget also cuts $650 million from the University of California system, whose regents will vote Thursday on a tuition increase for their 222,000 students. If approved, UC undergrad students will pay $12,200 a year. CSU undergrads will pay just $5,472 a year. (Adding campus fees brings the total to $6,556.)

4) We’re still among the most affordable

One of the reasons the CSUs ranked so high in the U.S. Department of Education study of fastest growing tuitions is because CSU tuition has been historically very low compared to public universities in the rest of the nation. And despite the recent spate of tuition increases, CSUs still rank among the most affordable. (For example, Arizona State cost $8,466 in 2010-11 and Rutgers was $12,560.)

That same USDE study ranked CSUB and four other CSUs among public four-year universities with the lowest net price – which is the average price paid by students after subtracting grants and scholarships.

5) Students aren’t the only ones taking the hit

The tuition increase is just one piece of the puzzle as the CSU focuses on continuing to serve students with a quality education in the face of decreasing state support. Campus budgets have been reduced by $281 million and the Chancellor’s office was cut by $10.8 million or 14 percent.

At CSUB, which was hit with a $4 million budget reduction, several management positions – including one top level administrator – have been eliminated or restructured into lower-level positions and divisions have been reorganized to streamline operations.

Keep up with the latest budget news on CSUB’s Budget Central website.

– Jennifer Burger, CSUB Public Affairs Coordinator