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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



The California State University (CSU) is a public university system that serves more than 480,000 students at 23 campuses located throughout the State. The CSU's mission includes advancing and extending knowledge, learning, and culture, especially throughout California, as well as offering baccalaureate and advanced degree programs that provide opportunities for individuals to develop intellectually, personally, and professionally. To accomplish this mission, the CSU emphasizes quality in instruction and seeks to provide an environment that supports scholarship; research; and creative, artistic, and professional activities. A 25-member Board of Trustees (trustees) administers the CSU and appoints the chancellor of the CSU (chancellor)—the CSU's chief executive officer. The chancellor has the authority and responsibility to take actions necessary to ensure the appropriate functioning of the CSU system, including developing and overseeing its budget and issuing executive orders on CSU policy. Under the chancellor's direction, the Office of the Chancellor (Chancellor's Office) serves as the headquarters for the CSU system and oversees the campuses. The chancellor may also delegate authority for activities to others within the CSU, such as the campus presidents.

CSU's Main Funding Sources
for Fiscal Year 2018–19

General Fund appropriations: $3.6 billion

Tuition and other fee revenue: $3.1 billion

One-time state allocations: $161.6 million

Source: Chancellor's Office's documentation.

The CSU receives the majority of its funding from two sources: appropriations from the State's General Fund and revenue from students. The Legislature annually determines the amount of CSU's General Fund support. As the text box shows, this amount was the largest portion of the university's funding in fiscal year 2018–19. In addition, the CSU receives revenue from students through tuition and fees. Tuition is controlled by the trustees and is the same across all 23 campuses. Fees, however, are generally campus-based and therefore vary by campus.A small number of other fees are controlled by the trustees. Like tuition, these fees are uniform across campuses. Students pay some campus fees in exchange for specific optional services, such as on-campus housing and parking. However, to enroll at any CSU campus, students must pay certain other fees known as Category II Fees (mandatory fees). When directing our office to perform an audit of these mandatory fees, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (Audit Committee) specified four CSU campuses for us to review: Chico State University (Chico State); San Diego State University (San Diego State); San José State University (San José State); and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly).

Estimated Average Cost to Attend CSU for a Resident Undergraduate Living on Campus

Tuition: $5,740

Average mandatory fees: $1,630

Books and supplies: $1,920

Food and housing: $14,180

Transportation: $1,140

Personal/miscellaneous: $1,580

Source: Chancellor's Office, academic year 2019–20.

Tuition, systemwide fees, and mandatory fees make up the total cost to students to enroll at CSU campuses, but students also incur additional and sometimes significant costs as a result of their attendance. These costs include—but are not limited to—room and board, books, and transportation as the text box shows.

Types and Amounts of Mandatory Fees

The Chancellor's Office has a systemwide fee policy (fee policy) that requires each campus to report its mandatory fees and the amounts it collects each year. The Chancellor's Office then organizes each campus's mandatory fees into one of seven types, which are listed in Table 1. As the Table indicates, the purposes for four fee types—health facilities fees, health services fees, student union fees, and student association fees—are relatively clear and defined. Revenues from these fees support specific purposes: providing on-campus health services, constructing and maintaining health and student union facilities, and supporting student associations.

However, the other three fee types—instructionally related activity fees; student success fees; and materials, services, and facilities fees—have less well-defined purposes. State law broadly defines these mandatory fees, if at all, and generally places no limit on how campuses can use revenue from them.As we discuss in a subsequent section, the Legislature amended state law to restrict how the Chancellor's Office and campuses establish or increase student success fees; however, the law does not include a clear definition of the fees' purpose. For example, a 1974 law broadly defines instructionally related activities as activities and laboratory experiences that are partially sponsored by an academic discipline and that are integrally related to its formal instructional offerings. According to the law, these activities may include, but are not limited to, intercollegiate athletics; radio; television; theater productions; art exhibits; publications; and film, music, and dance performances. We discuss our concerns with the overlap among instructionally related activity fees; student success fees; and materials, services, and facilities fees in more detail in the Audit Results section of this report.

Table 1
Three of the Seven Mandatory Fee Types Have Broadly Defined Purposes
Fee Type Purpose of Fee
Fees with clearly defined purposes Health facilities To support costs for acquiring, constructing, improving, and maintaining a student health center facility.
Health services To support costs of making basic campus-based health services available.
Student association To generally support the operations of a campus's associated student organization. These organizations administer student governments as well as clubs and services on campus.
Student union To support the costs of building and operating a campus student union facility.
Fees with broadly defined purposes Instructionally related activities To support costs of instructionally related activities as defined by state law and approved by the trustees, including but not limited to, intercollegiate athletics; art exhibits; and radio, television, and theater productions.
Materials, services, and facilities To cover costs of various services, facilities, or materials a campus makes available to all students as part of the overall university experience. This fee type may include multiple individual components with different official purposes at a single campus, such as a fee to pay for specific course materials or to support student learning.
Student success (certain campuses only) Defined by individual campuses to support costs of enhancing academic programs, improving the availability of courses, and facilitating student degree completion. This fee was categorized as a materials, services, and facilities fee until 2015, when the Chancellor's Office formally created the student success fee category.

Source: Chancellor's Office and campus fee descriptions, and state law.

Mandatory fee amounts vary considerably across the CSU campuses. As of academic year 2019–20, the 23 campuses charged students an average of $1,633 per year in mandatory fees. Cal Poly had the highest mandatory fees ($4,201 per year) and Fresno State University had the lowest ($847 per year).As Table 2 shows, the Chancellor's Office does not currently include Cal Poly's opportunity fee—which only applies to nonresident students and has various purposes—in any of the seven fee types. Cal Poly began charging the opportunity fee in academic year 2019–20. It began at $2,010 per year and will grow to $8,040 over a four-year period. Because the fee only applies to nonresident students, we did not include it in the total fee amount for Cal Poly here or elsewhere in the report. However, we did review the campus's process for establishing the fee. Campuses also charge widely varying amounts for the same types of fees. For example, in fiscal year 2019–20, Humboldt State University charged students $674 for its instructionally related activities fee, while Cal State Northridge charged $36 for the same fee. Table 2 provides individual and total fee amounts for all mandatory fees at the four campuses we reviewed. Table B in Appendix B contains mandatory fee amounts at all 23 CSU campuses.

Table 2
The Chancellor's Office Places Campus Mandatory Fees Into One of Seven Categories
Chancellor's Office Fee Types
Health Facilities Health Services Student Association Student Union Instructionally Related Activities Student Success Materials, Services, and Facilities Total Mandatory Fee Amount
Cal Poly
related activities
Campus academic

ID card fee
San José State
Health center
Health center
excellence, and
Document fee
Chico State
related activities—

related activities—
Student learning


ID card fee
San Diego State
Student body
Student body
related activities
Library services

Source: Chancellor's Office fee descriptions and campus mandatory fee information.

Note: Fee amounts are for academic year 2019–20.

* For students enrolled in Cal Poly's College of Liberal Arts, the campus academic fee is $852 annually.

Cal Poly implemented a new fee called the opportunity fee in academic year 2019–20 at $2,010 annually, but plans to increase the fee to $8,040 annually by academic year 2022–23. Because only nonresident students pay this fee and because the Chancellor's Office does not categorize the fee into one of its fee types, we do not list it in the Table or include it in the total amount column.

Chico State's baseline fee is how that campus refers to the portion of its instructionally related activities fee that supports programs other than athletics.

Requirements for Establishing and Adjusting Mandatory Fees

In contrast to tuition, CSU campuses have considerable authority to establish and adjust mandatory fees. State law delegates authority for establishing both tuition and some mandatory fees to the trustees, but although the trustees have retained responsibility for setting tuition, they have delegated the authority to implement new mandatory fees and adjust existing mandatory fees to the chancellor. Under the Chancellor's Office systemwide fee policy, the chancellor has sole authority to establish new mandatory fees. Therefore, if a campus wishes to establish a new mandatory fee, the campus president must submit a formal proposal to the Chancellor's Office for approval, and the chancellor has the authority to approve or reject it. However, the Chancellor's Office gives campus presidents the authority to adjust the amounts of existing mandatory fees without obtaining the chancellor's approval.

When a campus proposes establishing a new mandatory fee or adjusting an existing one, the fee policy requires the campus president to engage in "appropriate and meaningful consultation" with the student body. To ensure appropriate and meaningful consultation, the fee policy requires the creation of a campus fee advisory committee (CFAC) at each campus. The fee policy requires that students compose a majority of the CFAC's voting members and that the campus student body association appoint the student representatives to the committee; the campus president appoints the remaining members, who may be faculty, staff, and administrative representatives. Before adjusting a mandatory fee or requesting that the chancellor approve a new mandatory fee, a campus president must pursue one of two types of student consultation: a student vote or a process the policy calls alternative consultation. The president must consult with the CFAC before taking either approach, but ultimately decides how to proceed. The processes for a student vote and alternative consultation have certain distinct requirements, but as Figure 1 shows, both require the campus president to work with the CFAC to ensure that students receive information regarding a fee proposal.

The fee policy establishes clear requirements for holding a student vote. If the campus president chooses to hold a student vote, the fee policy requires the president to consult with the student body association and the faculty senate to develop guidelines to ensure that the process is open, fair, and objective. At least 30 days before the date of the student vote, the CFAC must issue a voter pamphlet to the student body that provides an objective analysis of the proposed new fee implementation or fee change. In most circumstances, the vote is advisory—the president may choose to override the outcome. However, state law and the fee policy create a few exceptions in which student votes are required and binding. Specifically, students must approve by vote the establishment of or increase to a student success fee or, in general, a student association fee, and students must also approve the establishment of a student union fee.

Figure 1
The Fee Policy Requires Campuses to Use One of Two Types of Student Consultation Processes Before Implementing or Adjusting Mandatory Fees

This figure provides a brief description of fee policy requirements for two types of consultation processes outlined in CSU policy. Campuses must conduct one of these two processes before implementing or adjusting mandatory fees.

Source: Chancellor's Office fee policies: CSU executive orders 1054 (2011) and 1102 (2015).

The fee policy requires campuses to provide information to students and collect input during alternative consultation, but it does not establish specific methods that campuses must use to do so. In contrast to conducting a student vote, alternative consultation involves a less defined process by which campuses must solicit student input and then summarize the input in writing for the CFAC and the campus president to consider. We found that the four campuses we reviewed generally conducted alternative consultations by developing written materials describing the need for new fees or fee increases and by holding presentations and open forums for students about the proposals. The campuses also created websites presenting fee information, some of which allowed students to provide feedback.

Since 2012 the four campuses we reviewed have proposed a total of 13 new mandatory fees or increases to existing fees. These proposals varied in terms of fee types and amounts as well as the consultation processes used. Cal Poly proposed five fee changes, the most of the campuses we reviewed, while San Diego State proposed only two. Table 3 summarizes the dates, fee types, consultation types, amounts, and outcomes of these processes. We discuss our review of all 13 processes later in this report.

Recent Changes in State Law Related to Student Success Fees

In 2014 the Legislature prohibited initiating new student success fees until 2016 in response to concerns from students and the public about the nature and implementation of these fees. These concerns involved campuses' increasing mandatory fees on students who were already struggling financially, some campuses' decisions not to hold student votes when implementing student success fees, and some campuses' lack of transparency when spending student success fee revenue. At the same time, the Legislature also required the chancellor to conduct a review of the CSU's policy related to student success fees and recommend changes to the fee policy to the trustees. Subsequently, the chair of the trustees created a working group of two trustees, the chancellor, and two campus presidents to study the role, process, and enactment of the fees.

The working group reviewed the student success fees that 12 campuses had established and the processes the campuses used to do so. In a presentation to the trustees, the chancellor indicated that campuses often enacted student success fees because of significant reductions in state funding to the CSU and because of individual campus needs. The group found that of the 12 campuses, 10 did not hold student votes for the fee proposals and instead followed alternative consultation processes. Based on its findings, the working group recommended that campuses undertake a rigorous consultation process to inform and educate students on the uses, impact, and costs of any future proposed student success fees, followed by a binding student vote.

Table 3
The Four Campuses We Reviewed Have Each Established or Increased Mandatory Fees Since 2012
University Fee Proposal Proposal Type Year Consultation Type Amount* Result
Cal Poly Student success New 2012 Alternative consultation and advisory student vote in favor $780 Implemented
Campus academic Increase 2014 Advisory student vote against 891 Not implemented
Student union Increase 2016 Advisory student vote against 1,363 Not implemented
Health services Increase 2018 Alternative consultation 612 Implemented
Opportunity New 2019 Alternative consultation 8,040 Implemented
Chico State Instructionally related activities—athletics Increase 2018 Alternative consultation and advisory student votes against $326 Implemented
Student learning 196 Implemented
Health services 564 Implemented
San Diego State Student success New 2014 Alternative consultation $400 Implemented
Student union Increase 2018 Advisory student vote in favor 864 Implemented
San José State Student success, excellence, and technology New 2012 Alternative consultation $790 Implemented
Associated students Increase 2013 Binding student vote in favor 169 Implemented
Health services§ Reallocate§ 2018 Alternative consultation 349 Implemented

Source: Campus and Chancellor's Office documentation of mandatory fee changes.

* Amount reflects total cost of the fee per year once it is fully implemented, which may take several years. Costs will continue to increase thereafter if the fee includes an inflationary index. For these reasons, amounts in this Table do not match the academic year 2019–20 fee amounts in Table 2.

This fee proposal would have affected only the campus academic fee at Cal Poly's College of Liberal Arts.

Only nonresident students are required to pay the opportunity fee.

§ San José State reallocated its health services fees by raising its health center services fee by $27 and lowering its health center facility fee by the same amount.

As a result of the working group's recommendations, the trustees adopted a resolution outlining requirements for student input for creating or adjusting student success fees, and the Legislature subsequently amended state law to adopt most of the same requirements. Accordingly, state law now requires CSU campuses to obtain majority student votes to implement or increase student success fees. In addition, the law allows students to vote to rescind existing student success fees if the fees were in place on January 1, 2016, and have been in place for at least six years. No campus has implemented or adjusted a student success fee in the four years since the law took effect.

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