SF State administrators proposed a strategy to charge students tuition on a per-credit basis at a Feb. 1 Budget Committee meeting, but board members debated whether raising the cost per credit would widen the gap in access to higher education for low-income students.
The committee discussed the upcoming year’s budget and University President Leslie Wong, who sits as co-chair on the committee, noted that decreased enrollment numbers, including a drop in transfer students, are challenging the university to find new sources of funding.
With that in mind, the Budget Committee compared the benefits of the proposed a la carte system of paying by the credit with the current two-block tuition model.
“It’s already hard for students to pay for classes, that is why so many of us have loans,” said Erick Muñoz, a graduate student in the counseling program. “If you make it more costly for people, that’s definitely a way to keep people from coming to this university.”
Muñoz said students may turn to less expensive institutions or trade schools to receive their educations if they face a higher tuition.
Students pay tuition on two separate tiers in the current system. Undergraduates who take six or less units pay $1,665 per semester in tuition not including fees, while students who take seven units or more pay $2,871 before fees.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Luoluo Hong said that though a per-credit tuition system could be worth exploring, it presents a dilemma.
“Part of what the CSU did was follow some of the national best practices around promoting retention and graduation, which is to actually endorse the concept that you can take more credits to graduate sooner but not pay more,” she said. “So, if we actually charge by credit, that would not be an appropriate message to send to students.”
Dr. Hong said students who are priced out by such a system might resort to taking fewer units, resulting in a loss of revenue for the University.
“Charging more may actually get you less revenue,” she said. “We just don’t know where that sweet spot is.”
Dr. Wong said the chancellor and the university president’s primary commitment is to ensuring affordable and equal access to higher education for all students and he questioned the compatibility of raising tuition with such a mission.
College of Health and Social Sciences professor Jerry Shapiro said the proposed change could have other benefits, though. He believes it might discourage students from packing their schedules with classes they don’t end up taking.
“We have a huge withdrawal rate on this campus,” he said. “A lot of students enroll in one more course than they intend to take and then if they don’t get to drop they’ll take a ‘W’— no big deal, [it] doesn’t count on their grade point average.”
Psychology major May Mon Thant said the risk of paying for classes she might later drop would deter her from taking on a full schedule.
“For me, it would affect the amount of units I would take if you have to pay more,” she said. “I wouldn’t take a class if I was worried that I couldn’t do the workload, but if I could I would pay to take the class.”
Undeclared freshman Carlos Wadkins said he thinks it is unfair to charge students for extra units. Preventing students from over-enrolling is a good idea, but he said students need flexibility to be able to register and drop classes.
“It’s 12 units to be full-time but they kind of make you take more to graduate on time,” Wadkins said. “That makes it harder, and people who are taking more units are already working harder.”
Andrew Harris, dean of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, presented an alternative strategy: raising the tuition costs for programs where the cost of instruction is higher.
He noted that in a major like design the demand is high and, because of the facilities required to support the major, the program is more expensive to grow.
To cover the cost of such facilities, the University could add a surcharge to such expensive programs as an alternative differential tuition model.
But Hong worried Harris’ proposal could also create an unequal barrier to education for low-income students, particularly those interested in pursuing studies in the sciences, which are among the more expensive departments to fund.
“My concern is that differential cost levels for different majors will have the unintended consequence of diminishing access for some of the students who we stated we have a commitment for increasing their participation,” Hong said.
Tay Love, a junior psychology major, is currently taking 15 units and said she would fall behind graduating if she was forced to pay more for her courses.
“It’s already hard to get classes, especially if you don’t have priority registration,” Love said. “I just feel like we shouldn’t be charge more for our education.”
Muñoz said many students take the maximum number of classes in an effort to graduate as soon as possible in order to cut costs.
“With everything going up like housing, you just want to get out,” he said. “But at the same time, what are you losing? If you really want to dive in and learn more in depth, I want to make sure I’m taking the classes at slower pace.”
He added, “[Administration] probably forgot they were students once themselves.”