By Nanette Asimov
Chronicle Staff Writer
The price of a year at California State University could rise by more than 9 percent next year - about $500 a person - unless state lawmakers give CSU far more money than it got this year.
That's the plan CSU Chancellor Charles Reed will ask university trustees to approve at their meeting in Long Beach next week. The tuition hike would be canceled if lawmakers come through with the cash - at least $200 million - under Reed's proposal.
"This is basically our hedge against an unfavorable budget for the CSU system," university spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said.
Administrators may need that hedge, as signs point to a continuing crisis for California's economy - and for CSU.
The state reduced the university's budget by $650 million this year, leaving CSU with just above $2 billion for 2011-12. And if state revenues fall short, another cut of up to $100 million would be triggered automatically under state law.
Meanwhile, CSU's bills for health care, energy and executive compensation keep climbing, so it'll be either the state or the students who pay a larger share.
Typically, it's the students. If the trustees approve Reed's plan, the price of a year at CSU would rise for the sixth year in a row, to $5,970. Add the mandatory campus fee of $1,047, and the undergraduate price tag for a year at CSU would stand at $7,017 next fall, more than triple what it cost in the 2002-03 school year.
And as prices have risen, the university has reduced faculty and courses.
"Every single year we're forced to pay more and more, with fewer programs to make us successful," said Gregory Washington, president of the Cal State Student Association and a political science major at the Fullerton campus. "I can think of nothing else that has had such a continuous rise in price, and I don't know why people accept this for the state's education system."
Washington, who qualifies for no financial aid because his working parents earn just above the cutoff for Cal Grants and Pell Grants, is representative of thousands of middle-class students hit hardest by rising tuition. He said Reed's plan to ask lawmakers to buy out the tuition hike is a good idea.
"It's a tipping point, to see what their legislative priorities are," he said. "Are they serious about keeping college affordable? Or are they going to cut access and affordability at the same time?"
But he said students have little confidence that lawmakers will give CSU enough money to avoid the price increase. The university is asking not only for enough to avoid higher tuition, but for $333 million more than it received this year, a total of $2.5 billion.
At the same time, the university's finance team says the cost of attending its schools is still 30 percent below the average cost of attending the 15 public universities it compares itself to.
CSU "has the second lowest rate among all comparison institutions," the university reports, noting that the average tuition for 2011-12 among the comparison schools is $9,290.
The top-priced comparison school is Rutgers University in New Jersey, with a tuition of $12,755. The lowest-priced school is the University of Nevada at Reno, which at $6,372 is just below CSU this year, which is $6,519.
The proposed tuition increase comes at a time when faculty are planning a two-campus strike Nov. 17 to protest Reed's decision to cancel scheduled raises.
Union leaders say they have given up trying to hold on to raises that had been scheduled this year for all 23,167 faculty members, and will focus instead on trying to get pay parity for about 3,000 professors, counselors, coaches and librarians who earn below what more recent hires make for the same job.
Professors and lecturers from across the 23-campus system voted overwhelmingly to strike next week, agreeing to show up at Cal State East Bay in Hayward and at Cal State Dominguez Hills for the labor action.
Half of the faculty earn less than $60,000 on a year-round, full-time basis, according to the California Faculty Association.
The union and the university are at an official impasse in labor negotiations.
The CSU trustees will meet Tuesday and Wednesday at 401 Golden Shore in Long Beach. Their vote on the tuition increase is scheduled for Wednesday. To see the agenda: www.calstate.edu/bot/agendas/nov11/