Magazine Article

Q&A: The impact of tuition on students

California Faculty magazine spoke with Margarita Berta-Ávila about tuition
increases and the impact on students. Berta-Ávila teaches in the Teaching
Credentials program in the College of Education at CSU Sacramento. She
is president of the California Faculty Association Capitol Chapter.

Q: Why should the CSU faculty oppose student tuition increases?

Tuition increases are a personal burden on students, emotionally and financially. The CSU student body is very diverse ethnically, and the majority of our students come from first-generation, working-class, and low-income family backgrounds. The rising cost of attending college is falling hard on them.

Decision-makers sometimes forget our students are not only paying tuition. They are paying rent, meals, bills, and many are helping their families. Those are all factors that should figure into any decision to increase tuition.

Q: Some argue that financial aid solves the problem of tuition increases.

Whether students get financial aid or not, they worry about tuition and the many costs of school, and that creates tremendous stress. That impacts their ability to be clear-minded about their studies, and their ability to set long-term goals. They begin to think short term, survival, how am I going to pay these bills.

Q: The CSU is pressing hard to shorten the time to graduation.

We observe a large number of our students working excessive numbers of hours to get the money needed to pay tuition and school expenses and to live while in school. I am not talking about how it was in the past for those of us from working-class backgrounds—the summer job or the 10 hours a week that we managed. Many of my students work full time, and go to school full time. They are barely making it.

So, let’s not think in terms of pushing them through. Let’s think about how we support their needs.

Q: Are you concerned that “pushing them through” turns into “pushing them out”?

If we don’t think in terms of supporting students, we really are not making a college degree viable for them. We are likely to find a student will decide to go to school part time or give it up. Hopefully, that student will come back later, but so many do not. And that is a loss, not only to the individual but to California.

Q: But doesn’t the CSU need the money so that it can provide quality education and pay faculty fairly?

Obviously, the CSU needs money. That is why we have to lobby the legislature for resources, but not on the backs of students. That can’t always be the go-to answer.

Q: So how should the CSU leaders who are setting tuition be thinking about students?

Let’s think about all the facets that make up a student’s reality. In that context, just increasing fees is a short-term solution for the benefit of the university, but not for the benefit of a student. We need to think long term about resources that help them and not think about how to shift the cost of public higher education.