CSU will keep tuition flat for 2021-22 – OCRegister

Another year like 2020 and sophomore Ethan Luong said he may not have returned to Cal State Fullerton for the fall semester.

In an era of seemingly unrelentingly bad news on the education front, Luong and the 485,000 students in the California State University system were given something positive for the coming academic year.

On the heels of declaring a plan to return to in-person classes on CSU campuses, new chancellor Joseph Castro announced at the bimonthly CSU Board of Trustees meeting in January that the CSU system won’t raise tuition for 2021-22.

“I want to make sure all of our students hear that, and all the students that are thinking about the CSU hear that: No increase in tuition for 2021-22,” Castro said at the meeting.

Cal State Fullerton President Fram Virjee wholeheartedly endorsed the decision.

“I agree completely with the decision not to raise tuition in the midst of a pandemic,” he said. “We have students and families who are emotionally and financially affected.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person classes at CSUF in March 2020, Luong found being on campus and interacting with students and professors exhilarating.

“Being new to college, just for that to be taken away was hard,” Luong said.

A tuition hike would have been the final straw.

With the cost freeze and the promise of in-person classes, Luong said he is excited to get back.

The systemwide freeze on tuition did not extend to individual campus fees, which have shot up in the past 10 years at some campuses.

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However, Virjee said CSUF would hold the line there as well. Fullerton is already among campuses with lower fees, 18th among the 23 campuses at $1,212 annually, and has been stable except for small, mandated cost-of-living boosts.

“I couldn’t in good conscience do that,” Virjee said of hiking fees. “I can’t see that being feasible. We’re in a crisis.”

He noted that most fee hikes are made in consultation with students, but he wouldn’t be recommending any in the short term.

As a university system, CSU has only raised tuition once in the past decade, a $270 hike in 2017-18. Undergraduate tuition at the state schools is currently $5,742 annually.

While the short-term news is good for students, Virjee said there are major problems facing the system overall, and Fullerton in particular.

“It’s not sustainable,” he said. “In the long term, we have to pay attention to our financial viability. Our costs have gone up substantially.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s January budget proposal includes a 3% increase in funding as long as tuition stays flat,” according to CalMatters. However, the nearly $145 million only recovers about half the amount slashed from off the current state budget.

Virjee said Cal State Fullerton lost about $25 million in funding from the state and already receives the lowest per-student funding in the system. And while the campus was able to dip into its reserves and federal money from the CARES Act, the debt is mounting.

“We’re about $80 million upside down,” Virjee said.

The campus absorbed increased costs in information technology in transitioning to virtual instruction, including providing thousands of computers and Wi-Fi and hot spots to students.

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Also gone are two major revenue sources: parking and housing.

In the case of parking, it’s a double whammy.

In recent years, to alleviate the parking crush, the university borrowed heavily to build parking structures across the campus. Much, if not all, of the cost would be paid by fees charged to the large commuter population on campus. Those revenues are gone, but the debt continues.

Additionally, Virjee said, “We’re seeing the greatest demand for financial aid that we’ve ever seen.”

Luckily for CSUF and the Cal State system, help appears to be on the way from the federal government.

According to analysis by CalMatters, “The most recent federal relief package is expected to mete out even more aid to the system, about $854 million … At least $262 million of that is supposed to go to students as emergency aid grants.”

All of which should help students like Luong breathe a little easier.

“I think it’s a big relief,” he said.


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