LONG BEACH - Cal State University students who stay in school when they could have graduated, repeat classes or overload their schedules could end up paying extra fees designed to free up spots for others.
The Cal State University Board of Trustees in its meeting next week will consider raising the fees for some students in a move intended to improve graduation rates and free up classroom seats for 18,000 new students.
The 23-campus system of more than 400,000 students turns away up to 20,000 eligible students each year. Officials said the new fees are meant to change the behavior of so-called "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.
The proposed changes come at a time when educators across the state this week celebrated the passage of Proposition 30, a tax hike that supporters said will provide billions of dollars in funding for public education.
Officials, however, have said Prop. 30 is by no means a fix-all for years of state budget cuts.
The CSU has seen a nearly $1 billion reduction in state funding since 2008, while at the same time receiving record numbers of applications from prospective students.
"It is critical that we provide additional opportunities for eligible students to be admitted to the CSU," said Ephraim P. Smith, CSU executive vice chancellor. "With massive budget cuts, we have had to deny admissions to over 20,000 students who did everything right.
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 blasted by students and faculty who say the additional fees unfairly target struggling students. Student groups plan to protest during the board meeting at the Chancellor's Office in Long Beach on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"The new fees will punish students who take too long to graduate, who rack up more units than their majors ostensibly require, or want to focus on more than one field with double majors or minors, along with other `behaviors,"' the CSU-wide group Students for Quality Education said in a statement.
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 CSU previously considered charging the third tier tuition fee for a course load of 17 units or more, but the plan was modified to 18 units following an outcry from students in majors such as science and engineering who are required to take higher course loads.
Smith said the fees aren't intended to push students to graduate within four years.
"We know many of our students work, and graduating in four years is not a reality," he said. "This is meant to get students the classes they need to graduate on their timeline."
Each of the 23 campuses will have a special committee where individual students can appeal for exemptions if they face unanticipated circumstances, Smith said, adding that other state campuses have similar policies.
The board is expected to vote on the proposal on Wednesday. If approved, the fees will be implemented next fall.