Following the announcement last week of mandated fee hikes at every California State University campus, school administrators, faced themselves with impending furloughs and cutbacks, have responded to frustrated claims from CSU students that the imposed 20 percent increase will hinder education.

“What we do know is, it’ll matter,” said Jane Sweetland, dean of enrollment at Cal State University Channel Islands (CSUCI), in Camarillo. “More than half of our students are going to school in addition to working. If they’re making minimum wage, how much extra will they need to work? We hope they won’t get sidetracked by the short-term gains and losses.”

Starting in the September semester, every full-time CSU undergraduate student statewide will pay more than $4,000 in tuition and administrative fees. That includes the 20 percent increase imposed by school regents to counteract a lack of state public school funding caused by a flailing economy, excluding costs of books, room and board, and other expenses.

Protesters, mostly students, who turned out in droves on July 21 for a CSU Board of Regents meeting, met the board with cries of “Shame on You!” “Vote No!” and other epithets as the fee increases were ultimately approved.

But despite the extra fees tacked onto already-tight student budgets, Sweetland said it’s still too early to tell if the changes will cause students to either transfer or drop out of the CSU system altogether. Contrary to student outcry on the fee hike issue, interest in attending the university has been at a competitive high; yet it’s been undercut by early caps and cutoffs to undergrad application deadlines, as students looking to attend the Camarillo campus are now shut out until the next cycle.

According to Sweetland, applications for the Spring 2010 semester are no longer being accepted across CSU campuses. The upcoming fall semester also had an early cutoff date for applications.

“One of the ways we’re managing enrollment is, we closed earlier for applications, earlier than ever before. We did this because we knew we could not accommodate them,” she said.

“Even closing weeks earlier, we still receive thousands more applications than we can accommodate,” she continued. “There are people who’d like to be here.”

The halt on applications has temporarily blocked the Camarillo campus’ goal of a 5,000-student enrollment by 2012. This fall, the undergraduate headcount is capped at about 3,800 students, Sweetland said.

At Cal Lutheran University (CLU), a private school in Thousand Oaks, enrollment will reach nearly 2,000 students this fall — which is exceptionally high.

“Part of it, I think, is the crop of transfer students,” Matt Ward, the school’s vice president of enrollment, said.

Ward said that CLU doesn’t normally keep formal track of which schools transfer students are hailing from.

“Roughly 20 percent of our transfer students are coming from all over the place,” he noted. “Our reach is regional.”

CLU imposed a smaller, 5 percent fee hike in February and, like most private schools, is tuition-driven, charging fees traditionally higher than public universities. According to Linda Fulford, CLU’s communications director, with the school’s fee hikes, tuition for a CLU undergrad student in the 2009-2010 school year averages out at $29,230.

But even with CSU’s record-high, 20 percent fee increase, the state-sponsored school system — like most public schools on the West Coast — still remains cheaper than comparable public schools in other parts of the country, leaving the possibility that student outcry over the new charges is unnecessary.

A student attending a University of Florida campus for the 2009-2010 school year will pay $4,340 in tuition and fees, without a fee hike, according to the school’s Web site. Yet undergrad students at the University of Ohio can expect to pay double that this coming school year, with tuition and fees there averaging more than $8,900.

Even costlier is attending Rutgers University, where undergrad fees at the New Jersey public college for the upcoming school year are about $11,886, nearing the cost of some private school counterparts.

Although enrollment has gone up at schools like CLU, overall growth has not been as significant as university leaders would like to see, said Ward, where numbers have tended to remain flat in both public and private sectors, mostly due to economic reasons.

“There simply have not been enough resources for families to go to private or public schools,” he said. “They’re opting to go to community colleges.”

Steve Murillo, a nursing student at Oxnard College, pays at least $3,000 a year in tuition and fees. With the costs as high as they are, Murillo says it’s unlikely he’d ever be able to afford a school like CSUCI, considering the school’s rate changes.

He feels the rate hikes at the university level have made it virtually impossible for him to transfer, he says.

Murillo’s situation is compounded because he’s a single parent while juggling work and school. On top of that, his daughter Katherine is 18 and will enter Oxnard College next month as a freshman. Murillo says the more expensive public colleges become, the more young students are discouraged from pursuing it.

“How do they (administrators) think it’s going to affect my daughter and their generation going to school?” Murillo asked. “When you don’t have that place of learning, what do you do?”

For the time being, administrators and faculty at CSU schools are grappling with a similar quandary as they brace themselves for impending work furloughs. CSU regents had also approved a mandatory two days off a month for non-unionized employees and others in managerial positions, beginning next week. The changes will remain in place until next year.

John Yudelson, a CSUCI faculty union representative, could not be reached for comment on the work furloughs.  

paul@vcreporter.com