The general public was introduced to a tuition-freezing bill known as the Student Protection Act Tuesday morning at Sacramento State University. Written by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva of the 65th district and sponsored by the California Faculty Association, Assembly Bill 393 proposes a four-year moratorium on systemwide tuition and student fee increases.
“The specific systemic problem we confront today is the long, gradual abandonment of the state’s commitment to fund the CSU and other public higher education sectors,” said Kevin Weir, a professor of sociology, president of the capital CFA chapter at Sacramento State University and associate vice president of CFA. “If the CSU had levels of funding comparable to what it was funded at in 1985, the people’s university today would have an additional $773 million in its operating budget. ”
Assembly Bill 393 proposes that tuition and statewide fees for CSU and California Community College campuses “not be increased from the amounts that were charged as of December 31, 2016, until the completion of the 2019–20 academic year,” according to a press release emailed by CFA the same morning.
Currently, the CSU is considering a tuition hike for the 2017-18 school year, which is set to be voted on in the coming sessions of the CSU Board of Trustees.
The legislation was created out of a desire to ease the financial burden that obtaining a higher education currently places on students and return to a former plan for free college education for California residents originally outlined in the Donahoe Act of 1960.
“We know now more than ever, our students are struggling not only to pay their rent, to be able to work to pay for food and other essentials, but also go to college,” Quirk-Silva said in her presentation of the bill.
Costs of tuition have increased by 923 percent in the last three decades, she said, which comprise the most expensive costs of higher education in state history.
“This moratorium will give students and their families peace of mind that the already high cost of higher education will be capped for the near future as the legislators works on long-term funding solutions,” Quirk-Silva said.
Weir backed Quirk-Silva’s legislation on behalf of faculty.
“The California Faculty Association is sponsoring the Student Protection Act because faculty members of the CSU are on the front lines of higher education. We work closely with our students every day, inside and outside of the classroom,” he said during the presentation. “We see the impact of financial stress on our students’ ability to prepare for class, to buy books, to have time to study – let alone their health and well-being.”
In addition, AB 393 was touted as a way to give the students in California more legislative consideration.
“The Student Protection Act also connects the people’s university to the people’s sentiment,” Weir said. “The Public Policy Institute of California recently reported that 70 percent of Californians across parties say they would be unwilling to increase student fees to fund higher education.”
Weir and company believe that reducing the financial burden of higher education will increase student performance by reducing the number of hours they need to devote to work and make it more feasible to cover fees with financial aid.
The core foundation of the bill can be traced back to the Donahoe Higher Education Act, more commonly known as the master plan for higher education in California. In the plan, there are suggestions for how to best structure the three-tier education system of community colleges, CSUs and Universities of California and their respective pools of students and finances.
With the financial recessions of the early 2000s, though, the guidelines of the master plan fell by the wayside as privatization changed the function of colleges across the state. Finding a path back to the Act is high on Quirk-Silva’s list of goals, but she knows that money is not the only influential factor in a student’s educational experience.
“When I introduced this legislation, we knew there are many demands on the California budget. We know that there are housing and transportation issues …,” she said before noting that food insecurity and homelessness are also creating barriers between students and their educational career.
One in every 10 California students is homeless, while one in every five is food insecure, according to a recent study commissioned by the CSU system.
“The investment in education is our investment in the future,” Quirk-Silva said.