Bad timing on fees

CSU surcharge proposal another case of tone-deafness

If there were an award for the most tone-deaf public agency in the state, the California State University, aided and abetted by its Board of Trustees, would win it hands down.

Readers will remember that, two summers ago, the board raised student tuition by 12 percent, on top of a 10 percent hike already approved the year before, even as it was agreeing to pay the new president of San Diego State $100,000 more annually than his predecessor earned.

Bad timing.

Something similar is happening this year. In one of his parting acts, retiring Chancellor Charles Reed has proposed a set of special new fees for students beginning with the fall 2013 semester. The proposal comes just as voters have passed Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure premised on a promise that students not only wouldn’t see new fee increases, but also would enjoy a $250 fee rollback beginning next semester.

Really bad timing.

CSU officials say the fees have nothing to do with the budget, that they’re simply “incentives” designed to compel students to stay focused on graduation by taking only courses that move them forward. Students who take more units than they need, repeat courses or take 18 or more units at a time would face fee surcharges of up to $372 per unit. The goal, the officials say, is to free up space for as many as 16,000 additional students.

OK, but there are better ways to keep students from repeating courses, just as there are ways to keep them from signing up for more courses than they need so they can later drop the ones they don’t like. Many colleges, for example, require that students get permission from their counselor before they can take 18 or more units. And the CSU system already forbids students to repeat classes in which they received a “C” or better.

We’re encouraged that the trustees decided to remove this proposal from their meeting agenda this week. Maybe they’re wising up. A new chancellor, Timothy P. White, is scheduled to start work soon. He should be given an opportunity to find a better way to make the university more efficient.