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At $780 per year, Cal Poly has one of the highest Student Success Fees in the California State University (CSU) system, totaling approximately $14 million this academic year.
The Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors will vote on a resolution to keep control of the fee in the hands of individual universities Wednesday, resisting discussion in a CSU-wide working group about standardized Student Success Fees across all CSU campuses.
The Academic Senate passed a similar resolution at its meeting last Tuesday. Resolutions are official opinions expressed by the student and faculty bodies.
“The Academic Senate and the ASI Board of Directors are both working on resolutions regarding what’s been happening with this working group,” ASI President Joi Sullivan said. “There are some conversations that have occurred or things that have come up that are potential changes that are concerning to some of the members on those various boards.”
In June, the state legislature passed a moratorium prohibiting CSU campuses from raising or implementing new category II fees, including Student Success Fees, until Jan. 1, 2016.
As a result, the CSU system established a working group of five people, including Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, who will review the Student Success Fee process and present recommendations to the CSU Board of Trustees later this year.
“The working group has been very active,” Armstrong said. “We’ve had three different public forums at three campuses, two of which have Student Success Fees, one of which does not.”
Currently, a campus can implement or raise a Student Success Fee through either a referendum or alternative consultation, Armstrong said. The university president then makes a recommendation to the CSU chancellor, who must approve the fee.
“So the authority to approve the fee is at the chancellor level, but the action really occurs at the campus level,” Armstrong said.
When Cal Poly decided to implement its Student Success Fee in 2012, the university conducted both a referendum and alternative consultation. Approximately 40 percent of students voted, of whom 56 percent voted in favor of it.
“Cal Poly is unique in the sense that it uses both referendum and alternative consultation,” Sullivan said.
At other CSUs, the process is not as transparent, she said.
Alternative consultation qualifies as anything from the university president consulting the ASI president to the university president talking to various students, according to software engineering junior and ASI Board of Directors Vice Chair Myra Lukens, a co-author of the resolution.
“It could be whatever you make it, and that is starting to cause some issues because some campuses do not support their Student Success Fees,” Lukens said. “I think Cal Poly has a great process for our Student Success Fee.”
Inequality of fees between the CSUs, the process for implementing the fee, and a sunset clause that would phase out the fee over a certain time period are all points of discussion for the Student Success Fee working group, Sullivan said.
The group is debating whether decisions regarding the fee should belong to the campus or the Board of Trustees.
“Should the Board of Trustees decide where this money goes on each individual campus to make sure those students really are getting more success based off of this money?” Sullivan asked.
Lukens’ biggest worry is the fee’s potential to become uniform for all 23 CSUs. Currently, Student Success Fees range anywhere from $35 at CSU Dominguez Hill to $780 at Cal Poly, while 11 schools do not have them.
“My biggest worry is they specifically mentioned they are going to look into the inequity of the fees,” Lukens said. “That kind of makes me worry about them maybe changing or trying to create a level playing field for all CSUs, trying to do a one-size-fits-all for the Student Success Fee.”
According to Armstrong, it’s too early to determine what the working group will recommend to the Board of Trustees, but the group has been “fair and balanced” at its public forums.
Armstrong and fellow working group member CSU Fullerton President Mildred Garcia are both “very comfortable” with the current fee process, Armstrong said.
“We’re both in accord,” Armstrong said. “We want to maintain the campus uniqueness in the category II fees.”
Armstrong said he believes a campus should make its own decisions surrounding Student Success Fees, and a one-size-fits-all approach would be detrimental to the system because each campus is unique.
“I think the Board of Trustees has every right to have guidelines and make sure things are done fairly,” Armstrong said, “but let the details, the amount, how its handled, what the money is used for, be determined on an individual campus-by-campus basis.”
Sullivan and Lukens echoed Armstrong’s belief that Cal Poly knows what is best for its students and campus and that it is different from other CSUs.
“I think most would agree that we know what’s best for our campus in the sense of Cal Poly is so unique from the other CSUs,” Sullivan said. “With our Learn By Doing, we do things so differently.”
Cal Poly’s three “high-investment” majors — architecture, engineering and agriculture — all benefit from Cal Poly having a higher Student Success Fee, Armstrong said.
“High-investment majors are typically thought of from the CSU perspective as architecture, engineering, agriculture and nursing,” Armstrong said. “We have three of those four and almost 50 percent of our students are in these high-investment majors.”
Cal Poly’s Student Success Fee has contributed to hiring additional faculty, leading to more than 39,000 seats for students, Armstrong said. More than 100 additional faculty have been hired because students voted they wanted more class sections, he said.
“They wanted to hire tenure-track faculty to provide additional sections of lecture and laboratory and keep Learn By Doing from becoming a slogan,” Armstrong said.
If the Student Success Fee was lowered or cut, Cal Poly would adjust, Armstrong said. But he’s hoping it won’t have to.
“That is a very, very awful scenario if our Student Success Fee was to go away or partially go away,” Armstrong said. “We would be forced in budget reductions, because there’s no immediate way, there’s not a quick way to make that up. I think the likelihood of that happening is very low.”
The ASI Board of Directors will vote on its resolution to support campus individuality in the Student Success Fee process on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Julian A. McPhee University Union (building 65) room 220.