State Audit Says Cal State University Hasn't Justified Ballooning Student Fees

A report released on May 14, 2020 by the California State Auditor finds that California State University campuses sometimes use fees for costs already covered by tuition and general fund revenue.

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

An audit released by California's State Auditor on Thursday said the mandatory fees California State University campuses charge students have shot up faster than tuition increases while campuses often did not adequately justify why students needed to pay more.

"The CSU has not ensured fees are necessary and as low as possible," the Auditor said in a summary.

The audit said that in the last eight years, fees have increased 56% while tuition has gone up 5%. During the current academic year, annual student fees ranged from $4,201 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to $847 at Fresno State.

"The campuses imposed fees on students, sometimes claiming they had no other way to meet their needs... but did not demonstrate this, particularly given growing funding from tuition and the State, as well as the surplus of over $1 billion that we found in a prior audit," the new audit says.

The report was released Thursday morning, before Gov. Gavin Newsom released his revised state budget.

The fees go to pay for programs such as student health, associated students, and academic support.

The audit's release comes weeks after trial lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of CSU and University of California students alleging those university systems should have reimbursed part of this semester's fees because some services are not available during the campus shutdowns.

On Wednesday, a day after he announced that the 23 campuses in the system would keep instruction online for the fall semester, CSU Chancellor Tim White told our newsroom's public affairs show AirTalk, which airs on 89.3 KPCC, that tuition and mandatory fees will not be decreased.

"Our cost drivers aren't going down. In fact, they're actually going up with respect to the cost of delivery, with the added technology we need to purchase, the added training we need to do," he said.

The audit recommends that state legislators:

  • Fully fund instruction so that fees aren't used for those needs.
  • Change state law to compel campus administrators to move forward with fee increases only after students have voted.

The auditor also recommended the CSU Chancellor increase oversight of fee increases to detect when campuses are overstepping their bounds.

In a response sent to the Auditor two months before its release, Chancellor White said he's pleased the audit found no violations of state or federal laws and that the CSU will consider the recommendations. However, giving the legislature more say over student feels, White said, would undermine the CSU trustees' oversight powers granted by state law.

On Thursday CSU said it's implementing the recommendations.

"In response to the audit," said CSU Chancellor's spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp, "the CSU has directed to the Division of Audit and Advisory Services to conduct more frequent periodic reviews of campus-based mandatory student fees to ensure that campuses are following CSU policies in regard to the establishment of and increases to such fees."

UPDATE, 4:35 pm: This story was updated to correct the campus with the highest fee. It is Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, not Cal Poly Pomona.