Fact Check: Myths plague discussion about proposed tuition increase

Myth: This tuition increase is insignificant; just work another hour per week.

Fact: There already aren’t enough hours in the day for many students.

  • 20-24 year-olds already spend an average of 4 hours a day working [1]. What’s more, for every one hour spent in class, it’s expected that students spend another two hours outside of class studying or doing homework [2].

Fact: Three out of four students in the CSU are already working 20+ hours per week [3].

Fact: One additional hour of work per week is associated with a decrease in GPA for that term [4]. 

  • Students who work more are spending less time studying and less time in classes [5], as well as performing worse on exams [6]. Longer hours working also increases the chances a student will drop out of college [7].

Fact: According to the CSU Chancellor’s Office, a “student would have to work approximately 33 additional hours per academic year – equivalent to 1 hour per week” to cover the tuition increase. Should students be forced to work more just to cover higher tuition when many are already barely making it?

  • According to a CSU-conducted study, 1 out of 10 students are homeless [8].
  • 1 in 5 students don’t have steady access to food [9]. 
  • CSU campuses have food pantries for students struggling with food insecurity [10].

Fact: The increasing cost of college means students are working longer hours. This actually increases the amount of time they have to spend in college since they have less time for their coursework [11].

Myth: We haven’t raised tuition in 5 years!

Fact: In 2000, CSU tuition was $1,428. This proposed tuition hike isn’t simply a 5% increase; the Board of Trustees has voted to raise tuition at almost every opportunity in the last 20 years by a total of more than $4,000—over 300%.

Fact: CSU campuses increase mandatory fees, even when systemwide tuition stays flat. 

Fact: While tuition has remained flat, mandatory campus-based fees have gone up by an average of 58% since 2010 [12]. These fees are not covered by Cal Grants or State University Grants.

  • As Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said during the CSU Trustees meeting in January, these fees range from “the modest to the absurd” [13]. For example: $841 at Fresno to $3,603 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — per year.

Fact: Campuses collected more than $100 million in “student success fees” during the 2015-16 academic year [14].

Myth: There’s plenty of financial aid.

Fact: The cost of a college degree is much more than tuition. Cost of attendance also is books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses (no, not dry-cleaning). 

  • This academic year, the average cost of attendance in the CSU is over $24,000 [15].

Fact: Even after all financial aid is accounted for, most students have thousands of dollars in “unmet need” each year. In the CSU, students who receive 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. 

  • Unmet need = Cost of attendance – Expected family contributions – 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, determined when filing FAFSA.
  • Grant and scholarship aid = Includes Pell Grants, Cal Grants, State University Grants. 
Myth: Grants cover tuition increases! Low-income students are not affected.

Fact: There are at least 160,000 resident undergraduate students in the CSU who don’t have grants that cover the tuition increase [16]. 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 [17]. 

Fact: Hundreds of thousands of eligible students who apply are denied Competitive Cal Grants. In 2014, approximately 280,000 otherwise eligible Competitive Cal Grant applicants did not receive one [18].

Fact: This issue is not only about cost for current students, but access for future students. Increasing tuition is a known barrier to entry for low-income students and their families, who are often unaware of aid available to them. 

  • States with the largest tuition increases during the 1980s and early 1990s experienced the largest growth in the gap in enrollment between low- and high-income students [20].
  • In 2012, only 52% of students from families with incomes below $18,300 enrolled in college, compared to 82% of graduates from families with incomes above $90,500 [21].
  • Only 40% of students in college actually applied for a Cal Grant and only 30% were using grants to finance their college education. One national study found that a $100 increase in tuition and fees corresponds to a decline in enrollment by about .25% [22].

Fact: A recent PPIC survey found that, across parties, more than 70% of Californians feel that the price of a college education keeps students who are otherwise qualified and motivated from going to college [23].

  • 88% of likely voters feel that students are already borrowing too much to pay for college. 
  • The biggest issue facing higher education for likely voters in California? Student costs, affordability, and tuition and fees.



[4] Ralph Stinebrickner and Todd R. Stinebrickner , “Working during School and Academic Performance,” Journal of Labor Economics 21, no. 2 (April 2003): 473-491.
[5] Triventi, Moris. 2014. “Does working during higher education affect students’ academic progression?” Economics of Education Review 41, pgs. 1-13.
[6] Beffy, Magali and Fougère, Denis and Maurel, Arnaud, The Effect of Part-Time Work on Post-Secondary Educational Attainment: New Evidence from French Data. IZA Discussion Paper No. 5069. Available at SSRN:
[7] Moulin, Stephane, Pierre Doray, Bonoit Laplante, and Maria Constanza Street. 2012. “Work Intensity and non-completion of university: longitudinal approach and causal inference.” Journal of Education and Work, pgs. 333-356
[9] Ibid.
[11] John Bound & Michael F. Lovenheim & Sarah Turner, 2012. “Increasing Time to Baccalaureate Degree in the United States,” Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 7(4), pages 375-424, September.
[13] Gavin Newsome comments at Jan. 31 Board of Trustees Meeting. 2 hour 8 minute mark.
[16] According to the CSU, 60% of students effectively don’t pay tuition due to Cal Grants and State University Grants, this leaves 40% of the student population that does, that is 160,000 resident undergraduate students.
[20] Thomas J. Kane, “Rising Public College Tuition and College Entry: How Well Do Public Subsidies Promote Access to College?” National Bureau of Economic Research, 1995,
[21] College Board, “Education Pays: 2013,”
[22] Zarate, Maria Estela and Harry P. Pachon. 2006. Perceptions of College Financial Aid Among California Latino Youth. Los Angeles, CA: Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI).