'Student Success Fee' Just a Tuition Hike By Another Name

'Student Success Fee' Just a Tuition Hike By Another Name

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Editor's Note: Despite a recent tuition freeze for the California State University (CSU) system, some CSU schools are opting to impose a “student success fee” to pay for things like campus improvements and increased access to high-demand classes. In the below commentary, a student from CSU Dominguez Hills explains how such a fee, currently pending approval at his campus, would impact him.

I’m proud to be a California State University student, but I’m not proud of the state of higher education in California. In the past five years alone, California students like myself have seen our tuition nearly double while state spending has decreased by 26 percent. With each year, this lack of investment signals California’s disinterest in keeping public higher education public. Only 6.5 percent of the current state budget is allocated for higher education spending, and the burden of paying for college has shifted squarely onto the shoulders of students and families.

Governor Brown promised to put a freeze on tuition, but he has also frozen funding for a system that needs to upgrade classrooms, increase course offerings, hire additional faculty, improve library resources, and strengthen career development services. This is why administration officials at CSU Dominguez Hills are currently considering charging students an extra “student success fee,” which they claim will go toward programs and services necessary to ensure the success of CSU students. Now, many more CSUs are lining up to charge these fees on their own campuses, charges that range from $200 to $500 a year.

Many students, including myself, are wondering why the thousands of dollars we’re paying in tuition aren’t already guaranteeing our success. Even though tuition is covered by scholarships, students are more likely to pay for fees out of pocket. So while the $200-500 student success fee may not seem like a large sum to Chancellor White, these additional fees are effectively pricing out many students on CSU campuses across the state. The average student debt in California is approximately $19,000, and for students like myself who are faced with much deeper debt than that, a few hundred dollars makes a big difference.

My dad is from Nigeria, and like many immigrant parents, he sees college as a gateway to success. It’s the exposure to a college environment that makes a difference, he says -- its resources, its minds. These are the things he made me believe in. Now that I’m getting an education, I find myself deep in debt and wondering if I should have joined the armed forces instead.

Working while going to school can have a profound impact on performance. People may dismiss that, but the burden of working eight hours a day, then making the transition straight from work to class often proves stressful. This is what I chose to do, taking steps so that I can be independent; to lift financial responsibility off of my support system and to take it upon myself. Sometimes, I find myself unable to take advantage of office hours or tutoring because of my work schedule. I already have to work to pay fees outside of tuition, like books and parking. More fees mean extra work, or extra debt, and less time to actually take advantage of the programs and classes I need to thrive. In many ways, these student success fees make student success harder to attain.

Our state leaders need to allocate more funding for higher education. If they don’t, we will continue to see underfunded schools and overburdened students. Our state and CSU Chancellor need to realize that these fees are no fix, but simply another band aid that won’t hold.

Michael Oyewole writes for Young Invincibles, a national organization representing the interests of 18 to 34 year-olds through policy research and analysis, storytelling, campaigns that educate on issues, and youth mobilization.