Quality control

Student fees and private donations fill the gap left by cuts in state funding at Chico State

MONEY MATTERS <br>Students shell out more moolah because the state won’t.

Students shell out more moolah because the state won’t.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Chico State is getting bigger. In fact, the California State University system mandates that enrollments rise each year. At the same time, however, funding from the state is low and shows no sign of growing anytime soon.

Chico State is not alone. The funding problem is system-wide and expands even further to include the UC schools as well. All this was the subject of an in-depth Los Angeles Times article Oct. 7 that reports, “Soaring student fees, huge fundraising drives and controversial corporate donations have not made up for a sharp decline in the state’s commitment to higher education.”

According to the Times article, a compact made in 2004 between the heads of CSU and UC and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for cutting back the budgets by hundreds of millions of dollars and then modestly increasing their state money each year until 2011. To make up for the loss in funding, the systems would put more effort into finding private donors and raising student fees.

Officials at CSU and UC say both institutions need about $1 billion a year more just to maintain the level of quality they offered in 2001. That school year, students attending Chico State paid $2,070 for tuition and fees.

“For Chico, the loss of state support is about $15 million,” Chico State President Paul Zingg wrote in an e-mail. “This means that we have to provide access, ensure quality, handle higher insurance and health-care and utility costs, avoid lay-offs, etc., with $15 million less than we should have had if state funding had not been reduced or unallocated.”

That’s no easy task. In 2003-04, full-time students paid $2,796 for tuition and fees at Chico State. For this school year, the price tag is $3,690, with the State University Fee being raised 10 percent. That’s a nearly $1,000 increase in just four years—and a $1,600 increase since 2001.

“It’s hard to say at this point whether, or what, an increase will be for next year [for the State University Fee],” Zingg said.

CSU has the lowest fees of any public university in the United States, according to the Times and CSU Chancellor Charles Reed.

Even so, with the Wildcat Activity Center set to open soon, plus a new dorm and possibly a new parking structure to be built in the next five years, it’s a safe bet that those fees are only going to rise at Chico State. And rising fees bring up the problem of limiting access to low-income students.

“Because of the practice of setting aside one-third of any fee increase for financial aid, the impact on access has been mitigated significantly,” Zingg said. “Not completely, but significantly.”

As for donations, the University Foundation alone—separate from the university itself—received more than $5 million last year. The Chico State University Advancement Web site explains: “Because state funding currently provides the means for a base level education, private funding increments state and federal dollars and supports many special programs and projects not possible through conventional funding sources.”

Zingg agrees, but said the state is ultimately the one to look to for funding California’s public institutions.

“Yes, private support can help. And it does,” he said. “But the burden of responsibility for the quality of our universities, for affordable access, is the governor and the Legislature of the state of California.”

In a worst-case scenario, Chico State could be at a loss for private donations. That likely would send the school in a downward spiral that would force fee increases that would limit access to low-income students while laying off professors the university can’t afford to pay.

“We are greatly challenged to maintain high quality in these budgetary and fiscal conditions,” said Zingg. “So far, because of the willingness of our faculty and staff to take on huge burdens, we have not seen a calculable erosion of quality. But the toll is heavy on faculty who teach overloads, on staff who take on new duties because of unfilled vacancies, etc.

“We cannot maintain this level of quality under such conditions forever.”