By Erica Perez, California Watch
California State University students would wield more influence over the creation of new mandatory campus student fees, such as fees for health services, instructional activities and materials, under a bill that advanced this week through the Senate Education Committee.
Under current law, the CSU chancellor has the ultimate say when it comes to establishing or adjusting campus-based mandatory fees, which are charged to students in addition to the base tuition set by the board of trustees.
Campus presidents are required to consult with students before establishing these fees – either through a student referendum or through special consultation with student groups – but the referendum and consultation are advisory only. Ultimately, the campus president and CSU chancellor make the final call.
"It overrides the rights of students to self-govern," Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, said at the Wednesday hearing.
Rubio's bill, SB 960, would prevent CSU from setting any mandatory campus-based student fees without a yes vote from either the student body or a campus fee advisory committee made up mostly of student members.
CSU Chancellor Charles Reed in March signed an executive order [PDF] establishing a new mandatory campus-based "student success fee" of $240 per year at CSU Los Angeles, even though there was no referendum on the issue and student groups involved in the consultation process took positions against the fee.
University documents [PDF] say the fee will allow CSU Los Angeles to increase retention and graduation rates by hiring more student advisers and a retention coordinator, providing support to a Summer Bridge program, moving the campus' technology infrastructure to a cloud-based system, and more.
Rather than pursue a student fee referendum, the university opted for an alternative consultation process permitted under state Education Code. This allowed campus groups – Associated Students Inc. and a student fee advisory committee that included student members – to weigh in on the initiative.
The student fee advisory committee recommended against the student success fee, saying they could not in good conscience vote on additional fees. Associated Students also passed a resolution opposing the fee in February.
Johann Almeida, an undergraduate economics major who sat on the advisory committee, said the university had not adequately considered other ways to increase graduation rates besides raising student fees.
"I wanted to make sure that we covered all of our bases before we asked students to cough up money at a time when a lot of other people are asking students to cough up money," he said. "Also, the students seemed to really not want it very uniformly, and I’m elected to represent the students."
Some students protested the student success fee in March, according to Intersections South LA.
"The alternative consultation process is more of a suggestion box than an actual seat at the table," said Chris Bowen, who is on the Associated Students Board of Directors.
The CSU system opposes Rubio's bill. CSU Legislative Advocate Andrew Martinez told lawmakers that the bill would go too far to restrict the administration's authority.
"We think our process works, is fair and is appropriate," Martinez said. "We are very concerned about the restriction of the authority of the board and chancellor to manage its campuses."
The CSU system has seen cuts in state support of almost $1 billion over the past four years. Tuition, meanwhile, has increased $1,500 since 2010-11.
CSU Los Angeles is just one of several campuses that have implemented mandatory student fees aimed at increasing student success. Since 2011, the CSU chancellor has signed executive orders establishing similar fees at CSU San Bernardino, CSU East Bay and CSU Long Beach.
Erica Perez is an investigative journalist for California Watch.