University debates controversial fees that could begin 2016

SF State students could face a student success fee on top of their tuition starting in 2016 if faculty, administration and the student body can all agree–and the governor is willing to approve it.

The University’s Student Affairs Committee is considering the pros and cons of imposing a mandatory fee that would pay for extra academic programs, which 12 CSUs already have in place, at an average of $300 a semester, according to the a 2014 CSU presentation to the Board of Trustees. The fees contribute toward services like undergraduate advising, career counseling, tutoring, increased class availability and technology, depending on a campus’ unique needs.

“We’re not really saying this is what we want,” said Paul Mendolla, the chair of the committee.  “(Government) is not as much of a support thing, like it used to be. It’s more of an assist. We’re trying to respond to the situation, but not telling the government that it’s okay to be that way.”

The committee is divided over whether it would be fair for SF State to institute success fees, and at their Oct. 14 meeting, many committee members expressed that the burdens placed on students are already high.

According to the CSU system’s website, the current level of state funding for the universities is less than it was in 2000, despite the fact that the schools now have more students.

“Students are making up a lot of the difference,” said Erik Rosegard, professor and chair of the recreation, parks and tourism department. “(but) allowing half the colleges to have student success fees may not be equitable.”

The state government placed a moratorium on new success fees in the CSU system when it approved a new budget in July, because of concerns that schools were passing these fees as a way to get around tuition freezes. The moratorium will expire in January of 2016, at which point CSU schools will be able to implement new success fees if the students agree to them, according to committee member Eugene Chelberg.

Meanwhile, CSUs are evaluating the results of the extra services the fees pay for, and SF State students are divided over whether they would approve of a success fee.

“I would be happy about paying it if the funds were being used appropriately,” said communications major Justin Maguire. “If there were ways to make sure that was happening, then absolutely. It sounds like a great thing.”

Other students are not so enthusiastic about the prospect of another school-related cost, and feel that they are unfairly being made to pay for services that were once covered by tuition or government funding.

“We shouldn’t pay for something we should be getting,” said criminal justice major Edwin Arango. “It should be included already. They should be focused on reducing our costs.”

While tuition is the same at all 23 CSU campuses, success fees are used to pay for needed services on a campus-by-campus basis, according to CSU Director of Public Affairs Mike Uhlenkamp. For example, CSU Northridge used theirs to expand wi-fi and library hours, and CSU San Diego used theirs to hire more faculty. The fees range widely, from $35 to $780 a semester.

“There is this perception that a student success fee is a work-around (tuition freezes),” Uhlenkamp said. “That’s not necessarily the case. There is a genuine need for revenue in very targeted areas.”

Whether or not success fees actually help improve students’ grades and graduation rates is up for debate.

“We’re still looking at the data on that,” Uhlenkamp said. “It depends on who you talk to. The general idea is yes, they have. It’s our hope that we can provide a compelling case that these fees do improve success.”

The Student Affairs Committee is trying to gauge the attitude of SF State students before proposing a success fee. Faculty representative of Student Health Services Rick Nizzardini emphasized the need for more students to be involved in the decision-making process.

“The Student Affairs Committee is looking for some students to bring their voices to this,” Nizzardini said.