CSU tuition increase consultation law proves good step in right direction but not the cure

Mixed news came out of Sacramento Sept. 27 as Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 970 into law. The Legislature is now requiring the CSU Board of Trustees to consult with students before implementing additional tuition raises.

While AB 970 is a step in the right direction toward establishing a more robust dialogue between students and administrators, we feel that this new law raises some questions that need to be addressed before we’re sure that students will really have a voice in how much they pay for their education.

AB 970 will have quite a few impacts on the way tuition hikes will be implemented. Trustees will be required to provide students with justification and reasoning for any fee increases — a far cry from the platitudes that have accompanied tuition hikes in the past.

Students will have the opportunity to raise concerns about rising costs to the trustees. The trustees will also have to propose any fee raises at least 30 days before putting them in place to allow for adequate time for students to respond.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good. Although it’s fantastic that the trustees will have to consult with students before they can decide to charge us more for our education, the law only states that the trustees will consult with statewide student associations and the vague and ambiguously worded “appropriate student representatives.”

We wonder exactly who these student representatives will be and how many there will be from each of the 23 campuses in the California State University system. We wonder how many representatives will be chosen from each campus and if these representatives will truly represent us.

That the trustees have to give us fair warning before they plan to up our fees is great, but we dislike the fact that this part of the law is likely in response to a lawsuit brought against the CSU last year after the trustees voted to raise tuition mid-semester with no notice to students. Doing a good deed in response to getting caught doing a bad one is not the best motivation.

We also take issue with the idea of a consult. Consultation is great, but only if both sides are on equal footing. If the trustees come to us with a fee increase and we disagree with the logic behind it, what power will we have to do anything about it? If we flatly reject a proposal, will that have any effect on the outcome of their decision? Or is this new law an attempt to placate a constituency that has suffered through numerous fee hikes, enrollment freezes and service cutbacks?

Gov. Brown was on the right track when he signed the bill into law. He had the right idea when he decided that the board of trustees needed to be reigned in and couldn’t leave students without a say in the matter of tuition, but that doesn’t go far enough.

Until our collective student voice actually has some tangible authority behind tuition hikes, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve gained anything.