CSU to call it 'tuition,' then increase it

System's terminology shifts away from fees.

November 9, 2010 

California State University is about to embrace a word that once was taboo: Tuition.

For decades, the system has split hairs over the terminology describing the biggest bill paid by students at Fresno State and 22 other CSU campuses.

California residents pay a "state university fee" meant to support noninstructional services. Only those students from outside California fork over tuition, which pays for teaching expenses.

Now, the CSU plans to revise those terms -- along with its prices -- as a more honest description of its charges.

Tuesday, a committee of trustees took the first steps toward raising tuition by 5% for the spring and another 10% for fall 2011. The full board votes today.

The new terminology is an acknowledgment that California students aren't getting the state-supported "tuition-free" education that was a guiding principle of the state's master plan for higher education.

Trustees reviewed the new language Tuesday at their meeting in Long Beach, and some expressed reservations.

The item was informational only; officials say Chancellor Charles Reed plans to issue an executive order reflecting the change later this year.

CSU news releases have already started using the word tuition.

Benjamin Quillian, CSU's executive vice chancellor for business and finance, said tuition is a more accurate description of how that money is used and also should end some confusion with federal financial aid programs.

Quillian also said that making the language more consistent with other universities should help parents and students more easily compare prices.

But the move has drawn criticism from the California Faculty Association.

Lillian Taiz, the association president and a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles, said the change sends a message that "we'll let elected leaders off the hook and manage by shifting the cost to students and their families."

Next week, University of California regents will discuss a similar word change and consider a proposal to raise fees by 8% next year.

UC officials say revising their language -- from educational fee to tuition -- recognizes that student fees now are used for instructional costs such as faculty salaries.

Authorities say the 10-campus system essentially has charged tuition for 15 years.

The concept of a tuition-free public college education stems from California's 50-year-old master plan for higher education. That envisioned enough state support to cover the costs of tuition for California residents, who would only pay specialized fees associated with health programs or other noninstructional services.

But that concept crumbled as state financial support slipped and both CSU and UC leaned more heavily on fee revenue to support instructional costs.

For example, fee revenue this year will account for about 37% of the CSU budget.

CSU officials also say the fee label has caused problems for veterans seeking federal financial aid for tuition.

Because the CSU doesn't charge tuition to California residents, GI Bill payments to veterans were complicated in 2009.

Several hundred veterans are enrolled on the Fresno State campus.

Denise Harris, a Navy veteran who is studying history and anthropology, said the change in wording should ease any lingering confusion over federal assistance for veterans.

And, she said, the word "tuition" more honestly describes what students pay.

The reporter can be reached at cfontana@fresno bee.com or (559) 441-6312.

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