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Cal State Students Protest Hefty “Super Graduate” Fees

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BVN Staff Report

Less than a week after California State University officials announced some tuition rollbacks as a result of Prop. 30's narrow passage last week, the same officials announced Thursday, November 8 that new fees will be considered, saying that students need to graduate faster, avoid repeating classes and avoid enrolling only to drop a class later.

School administrators at the nation's largest four-year college system, say enough is enough. They say the 23-campus system can no longer afford to let students linger so long without collecting their diplomas.

After gentler efforts to prod super seniors toward graduation, Cal State officials want to start charging hefty fees that could almost triple the cost for students who have completed five years of full-time undergraduate work.

"It is critical that we provide additional opportunities for eligible students to be admitted to the CSU," according to Ephraim P. Smith, CSU executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer. "With massive budget cuts we have had to deny admissions to over 20,000 students who did everything right."

The new fees are designed to motivate existing students to graduate as soon as they can to make way for students who can't yet be admitted due to budget restraints.

But the idea doesn't sit well with students who say they would be punished for switching majors, adding a major or minor or getting bad academic advice. They complain that budget cuts have made it harder to get the classes they need, so many students take courses they don't need just to keep their financial aid.

Shouting “enough, is enough…thousands of students rallied on campuses across the Cal State system. “Last week you said students would receive refunds only to turn the tables. Where is your creditability,” shouted Cal State University San Bernardino junior Aaron Callis.

"Sometimes through no fault of their own, students are forced into being super seniors," said David Allison, president of the California State Student Association. "It could harm individuals who change their majors as they figure out what they want to do with their lives."

Tuesday morning Students for Quality Education members rallied outside the Cal State University Board of Trustees meeting in downtown Long Beach to respond to the planned increase.

The group is insisting that students be included in the discussion of the fees and their consideration in the wake of Governor Jerry Brown's narrowly triumphant Prop. 30, which increases sales tax to pay for public education.

Brown was to attend a meeting on the proposal at CSU headquarters in downtown Long Beach. But Tuesday morning, the CSU office announced the fees proposal would be postponed.

The super-senior charge is one of three proposed fees that are projected to generate $30 million in annual revenue and create space for up to 18,000 additional students. The board is also expected to vote on imposing new fees on students who repeat a course or take 18 or more units in one semester.

The proposed fee would be phased in over two years. It would apply to students with 160 or more semester units in fall 2013 before the threshold falls to 150 units in fall 2014. Most majors require 120 units.

Super seniors would be charged $372 per semester unit — in addition to in-state tuition of $2,985 per semester. For a full 15-unit course load, they would pay around $8,500, about what out-of-state students pay. The charge per unit would have been higher if Gov. Jerry Brown tax measure Proposition 30 had not passed on Tuesday.

Cal State's proposed super-senior fee is part of a broader campaign to improve graduation rates in the CSU system, where only 16 percent of freshmen graduate within four years and 52 percent graduate within six years.

Across the 427,000-student system, about 8 percent of graduates finish with at least 18 more units than the minimum needed for a bachelor's degree. About 6 percent of seniors — or 9,000 undergrads — have completed more than 150 units, according to CSU officials.

The economic downturn has forced many American colleges to rethink the tradition that has long allowed students to explore academically, sample a wide variety of classes and repeatedly switch majors, said Michael Tanner, chief academic officer at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

"We're really having to ask, are we able to let students have as much choice as they had in the past?" Tanner said. "Maybe students who are engaged in this voyage of self-discovery are wandering too long without finding themselves."

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