By Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Education Writer
California State University students won't be surprised to learn that CSU campuses dominate a new list of top public schools in the nation - for fastest-rising tuition.
The news comes as CSU Chancellor Charles Reed prepares to ask trustees for a 12 percent tuition increase on Tuesday - the 10th hike in a decade.
Now, the U.S. Department of Education has premiered a database on its web-site comparing college costs of all kinds. Of 32 public, four-year schools in the United States with the steepest tuition increases from 2007 to 2010, 22 are CSUs, with tuition rising 35 percent at Humboldt State at the low end, to 47 percent at San Diego State.
While all CSUs share the same basic price, extra fees vary by campus, leading to differences in total tuition.
Federal legislation requires that the Education Department not only collect cost data but post explanations from universities like CSU- with unusually steep price increases - about why it's happening and what they will do about it (though no penalties are assessed for doing nothing).
For CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp, the question is a softball.
"We've been left with no choice," he said.
As California's economy tanked and the state became more miserly toward public universities, CSU has steadily raised its tuition. The new state budget reduces CSU's allocation by $650 million to $2.2 billion, with the threat of another $100 million cut next winter.
CSU's soaring tuition "shows that our state, more so than most, is divesting from higher education - no secret, right?" said Miles Nevin, executive director of the California State Student Association and a graduate student in public policy at Cal State Long Beach. His campus tuition rose 40 percent over the three-year period, the 14th-steepest rise in the nation.
San Diego State took the bronze with the third-steepest price hike, after Florida State College at Jacksonville (49 percent) and Northern New Mexico College (51 percent).
Cal State East Bay ranked fifth, with a 46 percent increase. San Francisco State placed 26th, with a 37 percent tuition increase.
"It's a very troublesome message as people try to calculate whether they'll be able to afford four years of college," said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who in 2008 helped pass legislation requiring the federal government, by July 2011, to provide an interactive Web tool for the public to compare college costs.
Despite their inflationary scarlet letter, CSUs are far from being the most expensive public campuses in the country. That honor fell to Penn State campuses and others with tuition in the $12,000 range.
Average CSU tuition rose from $2,772 to $4,440 in the three-year period on the list. It will grow by 10 percent this fall, and by another 12 percent if approved by the trustees next week. That would take average tuition to $5,470 - not including mandatory campus fees averaging nearly $1,000.
The federal site also compares "net prices" - tuition, room and board, books, and discounts from state and federal grants.
Cal State East Bay is one of four CSUs with the nation's steepest net price increases. Interestingly, campus officials say it's a good thing.
The campus built new dorms, tripling the number of students living on campus to nearly 1,300, said Linda Dalton, a CSU East Bay vice president.
The campus also moved up to Division II in athletics and assessed an additional $90 campus fee for athletic scholarships.
With a net price that could approach $8,000 this year, "Cal State East Bay is still a really good buy," Dalton said.
Meanwhile, the only CSU campus not included on the list of rising costs was Sonoma State.
"It must be an oversight," said spokeswoman Susan Kashack, noting that campus fees are nearly $1,300, well above the $950 average.
"I feel very left out," she mused. "Don't they know we're up here?"
The U.S. Department of Education's "College Affordability and Transparency Center" shows not only how fast college costs are rising, but also the most and least expensive schools of all kinds, public and private, and offers profiles of all colleges and universities. Go to links.sfgate.com/ZLAP.