Magazine Article

CSU student financial aid

Last March, on a rare split vote preceded by lengthy debate as students protested and faculty testified that it was a bad idea, the CSU Trustees decided to increase Fall 2017 student tuition by 5%. It brings statewide CSU undergraduate tuition to $5,742 a year.

The CSU administration says tuition hikes don’t hurt financially strapped students. That is not true. It is one of many myths about tuition and financial aid.

Here are some examples.

MYTH: “We haven’t raised tuition in five years”

Fact: While statewide tuition stayed flat, CSU campuses
increased mandatory “fees.”
Those have gone up an average
58% since 2010. These fees are not covered by Cal Grants or State University Grants. Fees vary by campus ranging, as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said during the Trustees meeting in March, from “the modest to the absurd.” For example, they are $841 at Fresno but $3,603 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo—per year. Campuses collected more than $100 million from just one type of campus cost—“student success fees”—during the 2015-16 academic year.

MYTH: “This tuition increase is insignificant; just work
another hour a week”

Fact: There are not enough hours in the day for many students
Three of four CSU students already work 20-plus hours a week. This despite the expectation that for every hour spent in class, students should spend two hours outside class studying or doing homework.

Fact: One more hour of work a week is associated with a decrease in GPA that term. The more students work, the less they can study. More hours of work correlate to performing worse on exams, and increase the chances a student will drop out of college.

MYTH: “Grants cover tuition! Low-income students are not affected”

Fact: There are at least 160,000 resident undergraduates in the CSU who don’t receive grants that cover the tuition increase. What’s more, these grants don’t cover mandatory campus-based fees.

Fact: Only 23% of very low-income students in California who apply for aid receive a Cal Grant.

Fact: Hundreds of thousands of eligible students who apply are denied Competitive Cal Grants. In 2014, about 280,000 eligible Competitive Cal Grant applicants did not receive one.

Fact: A national study found that every $100 increase in tuition and fees corresponds to a decline in enrollment by about 0.25%.

Fact: More than 70% of Californians feel the price of a college education keeps students who are qualified and motivated from going to college. Some 88% of likely voters from both major political parties feel that students already borrow too much to pay for college.The biggest issue facing higher education for likely voters in California? Student costs, affordability, and tuition and fees.

MYTH: “There’s plenty of financial aid”

Fact: The cost of a college degree is much more than tuition. Cost includes books, study supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses. Last academic year, the average cost of attending a CSU was more than $24,000.

Fact: Even with financial aid, most students have thousands of dollars in “unmet need” each year. CSU students who get financial aid still have, on average, thousands each year in unmet financial need. They must work, take out loans, or forego basic needs to make ends meet. Data for this document is sourced through the CSU, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Institute for College Access & Success, Public Policy Institute of California and more. See a comprehensive listing of sources.


Unmet need = Cost of attendance <minus> Expected family contributions <minus> Grants and Scholarships.

Cost of attendance = Tuition and fees + room and board + books, transportation, and personal expenses.

Expected family contribution = Amount families are expected to pay toward college; it is determined when filing FAFSA.

Grant and scholarship aid = Includes federal Pell Grants, Cal
Grants, and State University Grants.