The California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees approved a multi-year tuition increase earlier this month, following a similar announcement from the University of California (UC) in July 2021. These increases are designed to provide financial stability for the systems, and predictability for students, but will increase the cost of college for many. Some of this new revenue will go to financial aid—and as prospective students plan their futures, institutions will need to ensure that they are well-informed about available resources in this new era of higher costs.
At CSU, yearly 6% increases would take tuition from $5,742 this year to $7,248 by 2028–2029. While tuition has only been raised once since the Great Recession, mandatory campus student fees have increased over the past decade—these mandatory fees are for things like health services, materials, and programs to support student success, and each campus sets their own levels. Most campuses have estimated fees between $1,000 and 2,000 per year—however, some can range much higher. Along with the projected increase in base tuition, campuses maintaining the same level of mandatory fees could put most tuition and fee totals at between $8,000 and $9,000 by 2028
This move by CSU follows the recent implementation of UC’s Tuition Stability plan, which also sets yearly planned tuition increases. UC’s future tuition increases are attached to inflation, but in the first year it resulted in a $534 (4.2%) increase. Both see the tuition increases as necessary to battle budget shortfalls, grow enrollment, implement new programs, and provide financial aid for more students.
The plans have important differences too. The UC plan increases tuition at a rate determined partly by inflation for each incoming undergraduate class, but that tuition level remains the same for those entering students until graduation (or six years), while the next incoming class sees an increase. At CSU, all students will see their base tuition increase by 6% each year.
Importantly, both plans also rely on state Cal Grants, which rise along with tuition, to keep students from the lowest income families from feeling the impacts of these increases, just as when tuition doubled during the Great Recession. More than half of UC and CSU students don’t pay any tuition due to grants and scholarships, but that still leaves many students on the hook for the mandatory campus fees and other costs like room, board, and transportation.
In addition to Cal Grants from the state, both CSU and UC are planning to dedicate a portion of the new revenue from tuition increases for additional institutional financial aid to offset the cost increases for students from lower and middle-income families.
The number of students receiving state and federal aid may be increasing too. California recently implemented a new policy (AB 469) that aims to ensure that all high school seniors fill out the FAFSA or CADAA, the financial aid application for federal and state financial aid. Already, since last year the number of aid applicants increased by 24,000.
UC and CSU should also encourage prospective and continuing students to apply for financial aid and let students and families know that Cal Grants increase to cover tuition increases. Getting comprehensive financial aid information to potential students will be critical as the price of higher education climbs in California in the coming years.