In a move that would almost quadruple the cost of attending college in just over a decade, California State University trustees will decide Wednesday whether to hike next fall's undergraduate tuition by 9 percent unless the state gives the system more money.
It would be the ninth fee increase in nine years for the nation's largest university system, which says fee increases are the only way to keep up with rising enrollment and declining state support.
"Our options are severely limited," CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said in a Monday morning briefing with reporters. "The state needs to step up and assume its historic role as the primary funder of the university."
A $498 increase in 2012-13 fees would come on top of a 12 percent hike in fees this fall, a 9 percent increase in 2010, and a 32 percent increase in 2009.
The proposal, to be considered at a Wednesday meeting of the CSU board in Long Beach, would bring total university fees to $5,970 for full-time undergraduate students. When campus fees are included, the total cost rises to more than $7,000 -- and that doesn't include books, room and board.
Ten years ago, annual tuition was about $1,600.
San Jose State student Marisela Chavez, 21, said that her father, a gardener and landscaper in Napa, took on extra jobs to pay for her education. She is the first member of her family to attend college.
"He added some yards so he can help," said Chavez, a junior. "The $500 may not seem like a lot, but it adds up. ... I just told my dad about the increase, and he was upset about it."
To save money, Chavez shares a bedroom in her San Jose apartment. She also baby-sits in her free time.
Next year, "I was hoping to get a part-time job that would only require me to work about 15 hours a week," she said, "but with this increase, I'm going to have to make sure I get a job and hopefully be able to work about 20 hours a week, on top of school and organizations."
The increase would be canceled if state lawmakers next year provide CSU $138 million more than it received in the current budget.
"When dealing with the state budget, all things are possible," CSU assistant Vice Chancellor for Budget Robert Turnage said.
This year's operating budget for CSU is the same as it was in 1998 -- but the university has 70,000 more students, he said.
This year's budget was cut by $650 million -- and it could be cut by an additional $100 million next month if the state's midyear budget projections are not met, which appears likely. If $750 million is cut, CSU would be left with a budget that is only three-quarters the size of last year's budget.
Meanwhile, enrollment is growing: Next year, an additional 20,000 students are expected to enroll in CSU, a five percent increase over this year's enrollment of 365,000 full-time undergraduates. That is the result of new initiatives that ease transfer from community colleges.
"There is pent-up demand," said Turnage.
The officials said the new money is essential to maintain the quality of a Cal State education and would allow campuses to add classes, boosting graduation rates.
CSU is not alone in its budget woes. Across the country, states' support of higher education has sunk to the lowest level recorded in more than 30 years, according to a recent report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, which tracks and reports these trends in annual financial reports.
Reed and Turnage assert that CSU fees remain competitive with other states' university systems, and that the university offers many financial aid options.
The proposed fee hike comes at a time when faculty are planning a two-campus strike on Thursday to protest wage issues and Reed's leadership.
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 408-920-5565.