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California State University
The Mandatory Fees Its Campuses Charge Receive Little Oversight Yet They Represent
an Increasing Financial Burden to Students

Report Number: 2019-114

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Appendix A

Campus Compliance With the Fee Policy Requirements for Consulting With Students

As we discuss in the Introduction, the fee policy establishes requirements for campuses to consult with students when proposing to create or increase mandatory fees. To evaluate whether the four campuses we reviewed complied with these requirements, we analyzed the consultation processes that they conducted for 13 proposed new fees and fee increases during academic years 2011–12 through 2018–19. Table A identifies whether campuses complied, partially complied, or did not comply with the fee policy requirements. In the Audit Results section of this report, we discuss most instances of noncompliance that we identified. However, as we also explain in the report, many requirements are so broad that we have concerns about the thoroughness and inclusiveness of the consultation processes that the campuses used even though the processes complied with the fee policy.

As we describe in the Introduction, the fee policy directs campuses to consult with students through either of two processes: a student vote or a process the policy calls alternative consultation. The fee policy establishes different requirements for these two processes; therefore, depending on the process a campus used for a given fee, some requirements may not be applicable. Additionally, campuses' associated student organizations conducted the student votes for three of the fee proposals we reviewed. Under the fee policy, student votes conducted by the associated student organizations are not subject to the policy's requirements. However, we believe that because students are required to pay these mandatory fees to enroll and campus presidents have ultimate responsibility for all fee increases, all voting processes should be subject to the same requirements. The Table therefore indicates whether all consultation processes, including those that associated students organizations conducted, met the fee policy's requirements.

In some cases, campuses partially complied with requirements while still not meeting certain technical aspects. For example, when Chico State held a vote for three fee proposals in 2018, it published a required voter pamphlet in the student newspaper three days later than the time frame allowed by the fee policy; however, the campus did publish the pamphlet information on its website in a timely manner. Additionally, the fee policy requires this sort of pamphlet to include statements—solicited by the campus's CFAC—for and against the fee proposal as well as an objective analysis. However, several campuses published fee pamphlets that did not contain both statements for and against their fee proposals. The Chancellor's Office told us that if a CFAC solicits but does not receive a statement against a proposed fee, it is not required to publish a statement at all. However, given a CFAC's role in helping generate objective fee information for students to evaluate, it is reasonable to expect a CFAC to develop a meaningful statement on its own if no other party submits one.

Table A
Campus Compliance With Fee Policy Requirements for Consulting With Students
PROPOSED FEE Student Vote Requirements Alternative Consultation Requirements Student Vote and Alternative Consultation Requirements
Voting Process: The president, in consultation with the student association and the faculty senate, shall develop guidelines applicable to the student fee referendum process designed to assure that the vote is open, fair, and objective. Voting Pamphlet: The CFAC shall issue a voter pamphlet providing objective analysis of the proposed fee action and statements solicited by the committee for and against the proposed fee action. Voting Pamphlet Publication: Copies of the pamphlet and ballot/voting information shall be available to students and published in the campus newspaper and in other public locations around campus at least 30 days before the vote. Consultation Process: Alternative consultation strategies shall be developed with input from the student association and the CFAC to ensure that the process is transparent and meaningful. Fee Information: Written material regarding the fee proposal should follow the same guidelines as a voter pamphlet, including the objective analysis and statements solicited by the CFAC for and against the proposed fee action. Student Involvement: The campus should consult with any constituencies affected by the fee proposal, including a representative sample of students. Consultation Results: Results of the alternative consultation process should be summarized and put in writing and used as additional advisory material to be taken into consideration by the CFAC and the president. Recommendation: The CFAC shall consider proposals for the establishment and adjustment of fees and shall then make a recommendation to the campus president.
Cal Poly
Student Success Fee (2012)—Student Vote* NA NA NA NA
Campus Academic Fee (2014)—Student Vote NA NA NA NA
Student Union Fee (2016)—Student Vote NA NA NA NA
Health Services Fee (2018)—Alternative Consultation NA NA NA
Opportunity Fee (2019)—Alternative Consultation NA NA NA
Chico State
Student Learning Fee (2018)—Student Vote* NA NA NA NA
Health Services Fee (2018)—Student Vote* NA NA NA NA
Instructionally Related Activities Athletics Fee (2018)—Student Vote* NA NA NA NA
San Diego State
Student Success Fee (2014)—Alternative Consultation NA NA NA
Student Union Fee (2018)—Student Vote NA NA NA NA
San José State
Student Success, Excellence, and Technology Fee (2012) —Alternative Consultation NA NA NA
Associated Student Fee (2013)—Student Vote NA NA NA NA
Health Services/Facilities Fee (2018)—Alternative Consultation NA NA NA

Source: Analysis of campus materials pertaining to mandatory fee proposals and review of fee policy.

* For this fee proposal, the campus initially proposed using alternative consultation before concluding the consultation process with a formal student vote. We therefore tested campus compliance with fee policy requirements for student votes.

NA = Not applicable.

  Fully complied with fee policy requirements.

  Generally complied with fee policy requirements but failed to meet certain technical aspects.

  Did not substantively comply with fee policy requirements.

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Appendix B

Systemwide Mandatory Fees

As we discuss in the Introduction, mandatory fee amounts vary widely across the 23 CSU campuses. Not all campuses charge students every type of fee, and the amounts campuses charge differ within fee types. Table B provides the amount students at each of the campuses had to pay in academic year 2019–20 for each of the seven fee types. In addition, the Table includes the total amount of mandatory fees at each campus and the average fee amount across all 23 campuses for each fee type.

Table B
Systemwide Mandatory Fees, Academic Year 2019–20
Health Facilities Health Services Instructionally Related Activities Materials Services & Facilities Student Success* Student Association* Student Center* Total
Bakersfield $6 $326 $183 $62 $409 $691 $1,677
Channel Islands 6 190 260 145 150 324 1,075
Chico 6 492 396 202 138 830 2,064
Dominguez Hills 6 150 10 5 $560 135 338 1,204
East Bay 6 386 134 3 240 129 360 1,258
Fresno 6 226 264 46 69 236 847
Fullerton 7 174 78 78 393 161 291 1,182
Humboldt 66 666 674 353 117 246 2,122
Long Beach 10 150 50 10 346 124 402 1,092
Los Angeles 6 277 126 5 283 54 275 1,026
Maritime 14 740 130 280 210 1,374
Monterey Bay 186 254 165 96 700 1,401
Northridge 6 150 36 5 236 214 588 1,235
Pomona 6 262 40 436 123 787 1,654
Sacramento 48 252 397 143 786 1,626
San Bernardino 28 268 167 15 185 123 424 1,210
San Diego 50 300 398 50 426 70 474 1,768
San Francisco 6 314 236 696 108 164 1,524
San José 70 380 33 669 196 762 2,110
Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) 11 636 330 1,241 878 341 764 4,201
San Marcos 40 326 80 249 500 150 630 1,975
Sonoma 40 430 520 40 258 850 2,138
Stanislaus 24 408 336 288 154 590 1,800
Averages $20 $334 $222 $173 $224 $160 $501 $1,633

Source: Chancellor's Office.

* Students must approve by vote the establishment or adjustment of a student success fee or, in general, a student association fee; and students must also approve the establishment of a student union fee.

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Appendix C

Scope and Methodology

The Audit Committee requested that the California State Auditor conduct an audit of CSU mandatory fees at Cal Poly, Chico State, San Diego State, and San José State to determine the types of expenditures the campuses have paid for with mandatory fee revenue and the information they made available to students about this spending. The Audit Committee also directed us to review the processes the campuses followed when proposing new mandatory fees or increases to existing mandatory fees. Finally, it asked that we assess the financial impact mandatory fees have had on students and how students have paid for rising fee costs at the four campuses. The Table lists the objectives that the Audit Committee approved and the methods we used to address them.

Audit Objectives and the Methods Used to Address Them
1 Review and evaluate the laws, rules, and regulations significant to the audit objectives. Reviewed relevant laws, rules, regulations, and policies and procedures related to mandatory fees and oversight by the Chancellor's Office.
2 Identify any trustees' or Chancellor's Office's policies regarding the adoption of mandatory fees and what specific purposes or categories of expenditures are allowed for the revenue generated.
  • Reviewed trustees' policy delegating authority over mandatory fees to the Chancellor's Office.
  • Reviewed the fee policy to identify the requirements that campuses must follow to request the Chancellor's Office's approval to establish new fees or to adjust existing fees.

For each of the specified campuses, review the applicable mandatory fees for the most recent five-year period in order to determine the following:

  1. Differences between campuses in the types of fees and the processes of originating, approving, and implementing a student fee.
  2. Which fees require a vote of the student body, and if the student body voted to reject a proposed fee increase, was the campus's need met by other means.
  3. The increase in the cost of attendance as a result of mandatory fees and, to the extent possible, the increased costs that came from both mandatory and optional fees.
  4. To the extent possible, the number of students who are paying for mandatory or optional fees using financial aid from either federal, state, or institutional sources and the number who are paying directly.
  • Reviewed the purposes and amounts of all mandatory fees the four campuses currently charge.
  • Reviewed 13 proposed new fees and fee increases since academic year 2011–12 at the four campuses. We assessed whether the campuses followed the fee policy in place at the time of the proposals.
  • Reviewed state law and the Chancellor's Office's mandatory fee policy to determine which mandatory fees required a student vote. Assessed how campuses responded to rejected fee increases.
  • Determined the percentage change in total enrollment cost for the four campuses we reviewed and the average change in enrollment cost for all CSU campuses for academic years 2011–12 through 2019–20. Identified how much of that change was because of mandatory fee increases.
  • Reviewed state and federal eligibility requirements for major public grant programs, the sources of funding for those grants, and any limits on grant amounts that may affect how students use grant funds to pay for mandatory fees.
  • Using data from three of the four campuses, calculated the number and percentage of students using grants or scholarships to pay for mandatory fees and the number and percentage paying out of pocket or with student loan funds.*
4 Determine what accountability measures are in place at each campus to ensure that funds generated by mandatory fees are being spent appropriately. For a selection of expenditures, determine their appropriateness and whether they were made for the original purpose for which they were intended.
  • Reviewed reports and notices from campuses that identified how the campuses allocated, budgeted, or spent mandatory fee revenue, including information that campuses post publicly online.
  • To identify how campuses spent mandatory fee revenue, reviewed financial records from the four campuses related to mandatory fees from fiscal years 2014–15 through 2018–19.
  • Reviewed a selection of transactions involving mandatory fee revenue at each campus to determine whether the transactions were consistent with the pertinent fees' purposes and complied with any restrictions on the use of fee revenue.
  • Assessed the extent to which the campuses used mandatory fee revenue to support the core CSU functions of instructing and graduating students.
5 Determine whether mandatory fee revenues are funding programs or services that CSU is already required to provide through other revenue sources. Reviewed state law to identify any restrictions on how campuses may use mandatory fee revenue or other sources of revenue. Under Objective 4, we determined whether campuses complied with any restrictions on the use of mandatory fee revenue.
6 Identify what mechanisms, if any, exist for students to be informed about how mandatory fees are being spent on their campus. Refer to Objective 4.
7 Review and assess any other issues that are significant to the audit. Reviewed the Chancellor's Office's audits of the four campuses and determined that those audits did not find substantial issues with how campuses implemented or increased fees.

Source: Analysis of the Audit Committee's audit request number 2019-114, as well as information and documentation identified in the column titled Method.

* San José State was not able to provide us with data regarding specifically how students paid mandatory fees, so we could not perform an equivalent analysis for that campus.

Assessment of Data Reliability

In performing this audit, we relied on the four campuses' financial records for all mandatory fees for fiscal years 2014–15 through 2018–19, and a selection of expenditures at each campus. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, whose standards we are statutorily required to follow, requires us to assess the sufficiency and appropriateness of the expenditure information we use to support our findings, conclusions, and recommendations. To perform this assessment, we reviewed the descriptions of campus expenditures in the financial records and compared them to supporting documentation. We found that, with the exception of salaries and benefits, the data generally contained only broad descriptions about the nature of campus expenditures. Further, campuses did not always accurately or consistently categorize mandatory fee revenue expenditures in their financial records. As a result, the financial records alone are not sufficiently reliable for the purposes of determining the specific uses of fee revenue or whether those uses were appropriate and made for the original purpose for which they were intended. Although this determination may affect the precision of some of the numbers we present, there is sufficient evidence in total to support our findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

We also relied on electronic data files from academic years 2014–15 and 2018–19 that we obtained from the three campuses we analyzed; these files track student payments at each campus. To perform this assessment, we evaluated the campuses' data against external documentation of the total amount disbursed to each campus from major grant sources and federal student loans. We determined that the data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of determining the percentage of students who paid for tuition and mandatory fees using various sources and the amounts they paid from each source. As we explain in the Audit Results section of this report, San José State was not able to provide us with data regarding how students paid mandatory fees, so we did not perform this assessment for that campus.

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