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Cal State students decry proposed 'incentive' fees

November 12, 2012 |  4:11 pm

 Students make their way on the campus of California State University Northridge in 2011. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Large majorities of California State University students said they are more likely to take out additional loans and delay their graduation if administrators impose incentive fees designed to free up classroom space.

The results are included in a survey released Monday of more than 2,400 students at the university’s 23 campuses. It was conducted by the activist group Students for Quality Education in response to proposals to impose three new fees for fall 2013.

The university system’s Board of Trustees will consider the plan during scheduled board meetings Tuesday and Wednesday in Long Beach.

The proposed fees include:

-- A $372 per-unit supplement for so-called “super seniors” who have already accumulated 160 units. In 2014, the supplement would apply to students who have earned 150 units.

-- A $91 per-unit fee for students who want to repeat a class. Officials estimate that each term, about 40,000 seats in classes are occupied by students who have already taken the course.

-- A $182 per-unit fee for any course load of 18 units or more, which is intended to discourage students from enrolling in a number of classes and then dropping some later.

Cal State Chancellor Charles Reed and other officials said the fees are designed to change the behavior of students who take too many courses, repeat them or drop classes midway through a term.

But students say budget cuts and slashed class schedules are the real problem. They contend that the fees will create more obstacles and a hierarchy favoring those who can pay.

“They’re being decided on without any proof from the chancellor that they’ll work,” Natalie Dorado, 26, an economics major at Cal State San Bernardino said during a telephone briefing. “Administrators refer to us as commodities, but we’re not theoretical components in a business model.”

Gregory Lewis said he’ll need 18 units during the fall 2013 semester to graduate from Cal State Dominguez Hills. To avoid paying additional fees he’d have to take only 16 units and then pay tuition for another semester for the last two he needs.

“It would put a bit of a burden on me as I do already work three jobs -- and I’m not rare in that sense,” said Lewis, 22, a sociology major. “If you’re rich and have the financial wherewithal, you can pay, no worries. But for most students, especially at my school, not a lot of them would be able to say 'OK, here’s $400 or $600 or however many dollars so I can hurry and get out of here.' ”

According to the survey, 70% of students said they’ve already had to delay their graduation, mostly because they can’t get classes. Sixty-eight percent of students said they would have to take on more loans if the fee plan were in place today; 63% said higher costs would further delay graduation.

Additionally, 59% said they would need to work more hours and 34% said they would consider dropping out. Three percent said higher fees would make them graduate sooner.

The students said they would present their survey to the board and urge them to postpone a decision.

The meeting comes a week after voters approved Proposition 30, a tax measure supported by Gov. Jerry Brown that was strongly endorsed by Reed and trustees to avoid deep cuts to higher education.

Its passage means that Cal State students will be refunded a $249-per-semester increase in regular tuition that took effect this fall.  

Brown is expected to attend Tuesday's board meeting, his office said.

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-- Carla Rivera

Photo: Students make their way on the campus of Cal State Northridge in 2011. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

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