Last spring Sonoma State University was one of the many California State University campuses considering the implementation of an Academic Success Fee.
On Friday the campus welcomed representatives from the CSU Board of Trustees and students from all across California for a forum in which the board asked for feedback from the campus community on the future implementation of fees at Sonoma State.
Serving on the working group on student success fees and present at the forum was Chancellor Timothy White, Board Trustee Doug Faigin, California Polytechnic University President Jeffrey Armstrong as well as a Student Trustee Talar Alexanian.
The working group for the success fee was formed in response to the reaction from students, faculty, trustees and California legislators to the potential implementation of an academic success fee at universities across the CSU system.
An academic success fee is considered a mandatory campus-based Category II fee within the CSU system, meaning it’s separate from students tuition fees, considered Category I fees.
The purpose of this public forum was to analyze the positive and negative impacts of success fees at other CSU campuses and to get feedback from SSU students and faculty on how a success fee in the future would affect campuses.
At the forum, President Ruben Armiñana addressed the toll that the lack of state funding has taken on the CSU system in recent years.
“I believe the student success fee is a legitimate, local approach to our dismal failure of our political leadership to fund higher education appropriately in California,” said Armiñana. “Unfortunately, I do not foresee in the next few years, an improvement in the level of funding.”
Armiñana also discussed the influence that students had on the decision not to implement a success fee in the spring semester. He also emphasized how the success fee was created by administration, not students.
“These fees need to be created, led and campaigned for by the students,” said Armiñana.
Following the introductions by Armiñana and the working group of the success fee, audience members including students and faculty from Sonoma State and other CSU campuses were given the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns regarding success fees.
Cheyenne Aldridge, a fifth-year psychology and women and gender studies major spoke at the forum and expressed her concern regarding debt as well as the rise of homelessness among students.
“My current debt is $30,000 and I cannot afford to pay a dollar more,” said Aldridge. “We’re facing an increase of homeless students at Sonoma State who cannot afford to pay fees that we have already. Students don’t know where they’re going to lay their heads at night and with a fee increase it might force students to have to drop out.”
Aldridge also expressed how she believes Sonoma State is lacking the basic necessities of a state university.
“We don’t have proper materials in class for our teachers to teach. [Last] Tuesday, I had to sit on the floor because there weren’t enough chairs for everyone. These are the basic essentials that the school should be providing,” said Aldridge.
The next Sonoma State student to speak, Matt Lindberg, expressed his perspective regarding commentary made earlier in the meeting by Faigin.
“Earlier in this meeting, Trustee Faigin said that we [Sonoma State] could have a hot air balloon [at graduation] if we had a student success fee. I understand that was a joke, but my education is not a joke,” said Lindberg.
Also in attendance at the success fee forum was professor and Chair of the Faculty, Richard Senghas. He expressed his perspective on the impact loan debt has on students across the CSU system and emphasized the affect loans have had on his career.
“I am still paying student loans myself and I am a full professor and have been here 17 years. We have our students leaving here with an incredible amount of debt and student fees are going to increase [that debt],” said Senghas. “I hear the student fees have been wonderfully helpful in restoring all kinds of services and opening more classes. Yes we need that money, but on who’s dime? We are a state university, so I urge us to figure out a different solution for this.”
Also present at the forum, Armstrong emphasized the positive impact that a student success fee has had at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In a referendum student vote conducted in 2012, 57 percent of the university’s students approved the implementation of student success fees.
The University also received a formal endorsement of the student success fee by 32 of 33 student groups.
Following the implementation of a student success fee at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, an estimated 1,120 classes and labs were added across the university.
This brings about the question of the affect a success fee could have at SSU. Despite much opposition to the implementation of a success fee, students still struggle to enroll in essential classes needed to graduate.
Though Sonoma State is not considering the implementation of a success fee at this time, both the positives and negatives of success fees across the CSU system are evident.