What does the tuition fee actually cover?

What does the tuition fee actually cover?

by Sergio Mercado

The cost of college remains one of the biggest barriers to people seeking further higher education, with tuition and student fees surmounting over $3000 each semester for the average CI student.  

However, a large portion of this payment is attributed to a “tuition fee,” which stands out to be about $2871 per semester for an undergraduate student taking 6 or more units, according to the Student Business Services’ website. Despite this hefty fee making up a large part of CI students’ cost of attendance, what it is used for is often unclear. So, what does the tuition fee pay for? 

The CI View reached out to Barbara Rex, Assistant Vice President for Budget, Planning and Analysis, and Stephanie Bracamontes, Interim Assistant Vice President for Financial Services. Regarding the use of tuition fees, Rex and Bracamontes said, “Tuition covers approximately half of the university’s costs for delivering instruction, academic programs and services.” This means that the money students pay primarily goes back to students, through funding instruction and education as well as the additional services CI offers. 

The services the tuition fee is put towards covers a wide range of programs and materials provided to students. “Examples of these expenses include but are not limited to … academic retention and support services, classroom technology, student computer labs, specialized classroom equipment, student tutors and peer mentors,” Rex and Bracamontes said. 

What makes it difficult to track the use of the student-funded tuition fee is that it makes a large part of CI’s annual revenue, and as such goes towards several different parts of campus operations. According to CSU’s OpenGov Transparency tool, Tuition and Student fees, which includes other student fees such as facility fees and services fees, made up 27.1% of CI’s operating fund annual revenue for 2019-2020. State funding makes up the majority of CI’s funding for 2019-2020, responsible for 63.7% of that year’s operating fund annual revenue. As the second largest source of revenue for CI, it is clear that tuition and student fees play a vital role in CI’s operation. 

Examining CI’s annual operating fund expenses for the 2019-2020 fiscal year reveals that 51.1% of CI’s expenses for that year went towards salaries and wages. This includes staff, faculty, instructors, administrators and student assistants.  

This is followed by benefits, which accounts for 27.2% of the 2019-2020 annual operating fund expenses. The tuition fee covers part of these expenses. Rex and Bracamontes told The CI View that the tuition fee goes towards “ongoing administrative and overhead costs for faculty and staff wages and benefits.” 

Many students argue that the price of tuition should have been lowered for the fall 2020 semester, since instruction is primarily virtual and most students are unable to use the services that tuition covers. However, this is not entirely true. 

Several of the services that tuition covers have been transitioned to an online format as the rest of instruction has. Resources such as academic counseling, peer led tutoring and library research and mental health services are still available to students of CI. 

In addition, professors and lectures continue to lead classes, albeit online. As stated earlier, salary and wages make up a majority of CI’s expenses. “Reducing tuition and mandatory campus fees in the midst of the economic impacts of this pandemic would necessarily lead to increased employee layoffs, and would adversely affect course availability, academic programs and time to graduation,” Rex and Bracamontes said. Moving online has not greatly reduced the cost of wages and salary or benefits. 

Reducing the cost of tuition would mean reducing the number of instructors, leading to the reduction of courses offered and an increase of class size. This would create a more frustrating situation for students already coping with the exasperation of switching to virtual instruction.  

Additionally, as written in President Erika D. Beck’s Sept. 4, 2020 budget memo, CI’s 2020-2021 operating budget is facing a “$7 million reduction over the prior year’s budget consisting of a state appropriation reduction of $5.1 million plus an estimated additional revenue loss of $1.9 million attributed to a projected 5% enrollment decrease.” A further reduction in tuition would put greater stress on redistributing CI’s budget to continue to offer quality education.  

If the cost of tuition were to be decreased, it would be through the CSU Board of Trustees,  who decides the cost of tuition at CSU. “The CSU makes every effort to keep student costs to a minimum,” Rex and Bracamontes stated. CI tuition has only increased once in the last 8 years. Reasons for increasing tuition include “hiring more faculty and adding more classes to accommodate growing enrollment and due to insufficient state funding.”  

As of now, the contribution to CI’s budget through tuition and student fees are vital, since state funding faces cuts and CI will not be making as much revenue from on campus sales and services due to most students remaining off-campus. The transition to online learning has not halted the cost of ensuring quality education to CI students. Even in the face of cuts in funding, Bracamontes and Rex pointed out that “With our ongoing commitment to affordability, CSU tuition is amongst the lowest in the nation.” 

More information about the fee schedule can be found here:  https://www.csuci.edu/sbs/current-fee-schedule.htm, and the CSU OpenGov Financial Transparency tool can be found here: https://www2.calstate.edu/csu-system/transparency-accountability/financial-transparency-portal.  

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