The e-mail sent to all students in the 23-campus California State University system announced a $105 tuition increase for the spring semester of 2011, a 5 percent increase, approved by the CSU Board of Trustees last week in Long Beach. Trustees also approved an additional increase 10 percent in the 2011-2012 academic year—a potential $444 annual hike — that will take effect if the state does not find other funding to rescind the increase.
“My immediate reaction was loads of stress,” said Nguyen, a 19-year-old Garden Grove, Calif., resident who attends Cal State Fullerton, in a mixed tone of dejection and aggravation.
The tuition increase would add to a 32 percent increase approved last fall, bringing the annual tuition for the 2011-12 school year to $4,884, not including required university fees.
Regents at the University of California system on Thursday also voted for an 8 percent tuition increase for undergraduates, starting fall 2011.
'It used to be yearly, but now I see a trend. Now it's every semester,” said Ngoc Minh Nguyen, a Cal State Fullerton student. “Tuition, parking, getting books, it all adds up. It makes it all that much harder.
… I have friends who can't continue their education.”
Danny Nguyen thought he was near the finish line after a semester-long high-wire act done on a college student’s shoestring budget. Twenty hours of tutoring could cover rent, utilities, and the occasional helping hand to his mother, who works two jobs, but being called on to pay up a triple-digit additional sum on short notice has indefinitely derailed the biochemistry major’s college plans.
“How are students supposed to be able to study and not overstress,” said Danny, secretary for the Vietnamese Student Association at CSUF.
A CSU system news release said that the increased tuition will go toward boosting services and accommodating 30,000 recently admitted students. The mid-year increase will add 3,000 new courses across the 23 CSU campuses. The 2011-2012 academic year tuition increase will help pay for 6,000 more courses for students.
A representative from the CSU Public Affairs office said there was no readily available information detailing how many Vietnamese students enrolled in the CSU system. A special tally done in fall 2005 showed 11,000 Vietnamese students—a number that likely has increased with the booming CSU enrollment.
Scholarships, Cal Grants, student loans and fee waivers offer many low-income students some relief. The CSU release contends that 50 percent of students will be unaffected by the move because of existing financial assistance, but Danny Nguyen and other Vietnamese students in the CSU system expressed concern over a shifting focus from education to work on students.
Billy Le, president of the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations, could be affected by the tuition hike if he is accepted into graduate studies at Cal State Long Beach. Le, 23, expressed concern for middle-income students who will not be eligible for financial aid. He also said if students take on two jobs that they will not have the time to become involved in their community and clubs like VSA.
“I am rushed out of school; otherwise, I am going to have to pay more,” said Le, who said he specifically choose Long Beach because he could live with his parents under that scenario.
The increase comes at a time that Cal State Fullerton, at least, is attempting to increase offerings appealing to the Vietnamese community. Trang Le, Vietnamese coordinator at Cal State Fullerton, said the university will be announcing a degree program that will allow students to major or minor in Vietnamese and an international business concentration major in Vietnamese in the coming years.
The program, funded by a federal grant, is supposed to accommodate a need for bilingual Vietnamese and English speakers in the growing Little Saigon community.
College-educated Vietnamese professionals with an understanding for the culture are needed to fill the many agency roles that tend to the community, she said.
“Many Vietnamese are now being born here or come when they are young, so they don’t know much about the culture,” Le said. “They integrate into mainstream society. They might speak Vietnamese with their family, but they don’t know how to write or read because they didn’t study it in school.”
Higher tuition rates could be an impediment for Vietnamese students attending and graduating from a CSU campus, said Emma Pham, president of the Vietnamese Student Association at Cal State Fullerton.
“It would be extremely difficult for me to attend a CSU (without financial aid), given that I am not from a wealthy family,” said Pham, 21, a child and adolescent development major. “I would probably have to borrow more from my family, work more hours or get a second job. … It’s disturbing for students to be investing more time and focus on paying bills than studying.”
‘It’s disturbing for students to be investing more time and focus on paying bills than studying.’ - Emma Pham, Cal State Fullerton. Photo courtesy of Emma Pham.
The latest available data from the CSU Fullerton Office of Institutional Research and Analytical Studies shows 2,030 Vietnamese students enrolled. Pham said she and her fellow students would like it more clearly laid out what they can do to prevent future tuition hikes.
“It’s normalized,” she said. “It’s expected. Every year we expect to spend more on school. I feel I can’t do anything.”
Even students comfortably protected from rising tuition costs express aggravation over a shadow of dysfunction that has come over the CSU system.
San Jose State University student Tan Nguyen, 19, a bioengineering major, said it could take six to seven years before he is able to graduate because his general education and major classes are unavailable. He enrolls in classes he does not need because he must take 12 units of classes to be eligible for Cal Grants, which provides him a tuition-free pass.
It’s a worrisome tale for students who might have had plans to speed through college without accruing much debt.
Nguyen will attempt to enroll in an English 1A class, a general education required class, for a third time next semester.
“It doesn’t give me enthusiasm to go seven years to get a bachelor’s degree,” he said.
He said the time he spends at CSU could be better served working to help financially support his siblings and parents.
There are many students who have been helped by financial aid, but there are others like Danny Nguyen who said they feel they are being broken down by the rapid escalation of tuition costs.
Danny Nguyen said he was not eligible for financial aid because his parents were earning a respectable income before separating recently. Now he’s in a desperate scramble to find the extra cash, even contemplating a third job though Danny said he is “new to working so I am still trying to get used to it.”
His mother, who works as an emcee and a manicurist, would have a difficult time offering financial support. His father does not financially help him.
Like many other students, Danny Nguyen said he’ll push on forward, with no other alternative available in sight.
“Most people don’t know what I am going through, but those close to me now do,” he said.