11/13/2012 02:58 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

CSU Super Senior Fees An Unfair Penalty, Say Students


LONG BEACH -- The California State University Board of Trustees will consider a new round of fees Tuesday and Wednesday intended to improve graduation rates and free up classroom seats for 18,000 new students at its regular meeting.

Officials said the fees are meant to target super seniors who have already accumulated enough credits to graduate and deter students who frequently repeat courses or enroll in too many classes only to drop some later.

CSU officials estimate the fees could generate at least $30 million in extra revenue annually.

The fees include:

A "graduation incentive fee" that charges a per-unit supplement of $372 for super seniors who have already accumulated 160 units. More than 80 percent of majors require 120 units to graduate. The unit cap will drop to 150 units in 2014. Officials said about 9,000 students are categorized as super seniors.

A "course repeat fee" of $91 for students who choose to repeat a class. Officials said about 40,000 seats are occupied each year by students who have already taken the course. The fee is meant to encourage students to "make careful decisions" and allow access for students who have not yet taken the course.

A "third-tier tuition" fee of $182 per unit for for any course load of 18 units or more. The average student load is 12 units per semester.

Officials said the plan could free up 32,000 seats in classes each year, the equivalent of enrolling about 4,000 new students.

The 23-campus system of more than 400,000 students turns away up to 20,000 eligible students each year, according to officials.

"With massive budget cuts, we have had to deny admissions to over 20,000 students who did everything right," said Ephraim P. Smith, CSU executive vice chancellor.

"These changes are meant to provide more access for incoming freshmen and transfer students by helping current students to graduate in a more timely manner."

The plan has been met with backlash from student groups and faculty who say the new fees unfairly penalize students in a time of course reductions, overcrowded classes and fewer resources.

Students for Quality Education said the extra fees will create more obstacles for students struggling to graduate. The group plans to protest at the board meetings this week.

Cal State San Bernardino economics major Natalie Dorado said the fees will create an unfair hierarchy for the students who have more money to pay for classes.

"The CSU is overwhelmingly working students and many are first-generation college students who transferred to the CSU," she said.

"These students are not gaming the system, they are struggling to graduate. They need help."

The organization said it plans to ask the board to hold off on imposing fees in favor of other options, such as adding more course sections and mandating academic counseling for seniors.

Whitney Jenkins said she enrolled in Cal State Fresno as a freshman and planned to graduate within four years.

But six years later, Jenkins said she's struggling to finish college due to cuts to courses and overcrowded classrooms.

After taking a number of elective classes while waiting to enroll in required courses, the psychology major said she accumulated nearly enough units to earn a second major in Africana studies.

As a double major, Jenkins said she could be paying an extra $1,000 a semester under the Cal State University system's new proposal to charge an additional $372 per unit for so-called "super seniors" who have earned enough credits to graduate.

"I am one of those super seniors, and I feel like we're being unfairly penalized," she said during a telephone news conference Monday held by the CSU-wide group Students for Quality Education. "Adding extra fees will only complicate the problem. Students will be confronted with unwanted hardship."

The board's joint committees of Educational Policy and Finance are expected to vote on the issue in their meeting at 3:30 p.m. today, followed by the full board's vote Wednesday after 10 a.m. at the Chancellor's Office in Long Beach.

If approved, the fees would go into effect next fall. ___

(c)2012 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.)

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