CSU students fight proposed tuition increase, citing concerns about diversity, retention
Sabina Gebru is what Colorado State University administrators were seeking in their focus to recruit and retain more first-generation students and students of color to add diversity to the main campus in Fort Collins.
The 19-year-old from Aurora is the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, working in multiple roles designed to bring more students like her to CSU. She serves as an inclusive community assistant for the university’s housing and dining services and in its Black/African American Cultural Center, and was elected co-president of the Black Student Alliance.
Gebru is a third-year student who knows she is helping CSU serve other first-generation students and students of color. But she and others believe those efforts will be harmed if a proposed tuition increase of 3% to 4% for in-state students and 4% to 5% for nonresidents for the 2023-24 school year is approved by the CSU System Board of Governors.
Given the university’s own estimates that an undergraduate, in-state student will spend an average of $30,000 to attend CSU each year, that additional $390 to $580 next year — depending on a student’s area of study and number of credits already completed — might seem insignificant.
For some, though, it will be the breaking point that prevents them from earning a degree from CSU, student government leaders said.
CSU students petition university leaders to avoid tuition increases
An online petition started by students opposing the tuition increase had more than 1,200 signatures as of Wednesday, and they hope to get 10,000 — more than one-third of the 27,956 students taking classes on the Fort Collins campus during the fall semester.
“We’ve heard comments from scores and scores of students that say they’re struggling financially,” said Nick DeSalvo, the Associated Students of CSU’s speaker of the senate. “Between the tuition increase and the cost of living in Fort Collins, they won’t be able to come to CSU next year. This just makes CSU more inaccessible.”
In-state, full-time undergraduate students at CSU are paying a base rate of $12,874 in tuition and fees, while nonresidents are paying a base rate of $32,734. The University of Colorado, the only other university in the state classified as a major research university, is charging full-time undergraduate students $13,106 to $18,578 in tuition and fees — rates differ by major — and nonresidents $40,356 to $43,960.
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Camila Canet, an international student from Manzanillo, Mexico, might be one of the CSU students leaving because of the cost of attendance. Although she would rather remain in Fort Collins, where she regularly came to visit her grandparents while growing up, she is applying to several colleges in Europe to complete her undergraduate degree in psychology. She said tuition and fees will be about $2,000 less per year.
The proposed tuition increase for nonresident students of $597 to $1,552 — depending on a student’s area of study and number of credits already completed — presents a challenge, she said, for international students who are limited by their visas to a maximum of 20 hours of work per week and only in supervised, on-campus jobs.
“If it were up to me, I’d work multiple jobs off campus and on campus” to help her financial situation and ability to remain at CSU. “But I can’t.”
Students working long hours, multiple jobs to attend CSU
Gebru had five jobs on campus last semester and now has seven, requiring her to work about 70 hours a week on top of her full-time course load. Her duties as an inclusive community assistant include free on-campus housing in Laurel Village and a meal plan, valued at $8,855 per semester. That covers about half of her total cost of attendance, she said. Financial aid, including scholarships, offsets some of her tuition and fees, but she still struggles to earn enough money to stay in school.
She works multiple jobs in various offices at the Lory Student Center and works multiple shifts each weekend in food services at the Durrell Center.
Between her work hours and homework, she’s able to sleep only about 4-6 hours a night. She knows her busy schedule is affecting her grades, and she’s concerned about the toll it is taking on her health, both mentally and physically.
Dropping out of school isn’t really an option, either, she said, given the sacrifices her parents made to for her and her two brothers — one older, one younger. They always had food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over their heads and access to a public education system far better than what they would have had in Ethiopia.
Higher education, she said, is “something that you pull yourself up with. … For people of color, having an education is what gets you to the same level as white people with no education.”
Tuition increases would help cover raises for CSU faculty, staff
The tuition increase, which would be CSU’s first for all students since 2019-2020 and the first for in-state students since 2018-19, was pitched to the Board of Governors at its Dec. 1-2 meeting as a way to raise $19.7 million to $24 million in new revenue for pay raises of 3% to 5% for faculty and staff on the university’s main campus in Fort Collins.
CSU-Pueblo proposed a 4% increase for in-state students that would also go toward pay raises of 3% to 5% for its faculty and staff.
Employee compensation has been identified as a major concern by faculty, staff and administrators on both campuses.
More:Q&A: CSU interim president Rick Miranda addresses university's next steps, future
“We stand with faculty, particularly with nontenure-track faculty, who have been fighting for a pay increase,” ASCSU's DeSalvo said. “We just don’t want it to be on the backs of students, because students are already paying inflated costs for degrees that are less valuable than they were 20 or 30 years ago.”
An article from the Foundation for Economic Education cited in the Change.org petition opposing the tuition increase backs up that finding. Two other articles cited, from the Education Data Initiative, note that the average cost of tuition and fees, nationwide, since the 1990s have increased 130% after adjusting for inflation.
“Students can’t handle another increase,” said Rob Long, president of the Associated Students of CSU. “They’re already graduating with $30,000 in debt, on average. Tuition is increasing much faster than the rate of inflation; this isn’t sustainable, especially for lower-income students that, quite honestly, will be the hardest hit.”
That’s what bothers Gebru the most.
She still rarely sees other Black students in any of her classes — she’s majoring in human development and family studies — or in the library when she goes to study or on campus, in general, other than in the inclusive communities in which she works.
Any increase in the cost of attendance, she said, will have a negative impact on the university’s stated goals of increased diversity and retention.
“CSU needs students like me,” Gebru said. “Students who are determined to make a change, and students who are going to add value when they leave, when they graduate. The work I’m doing now, I know is going to add value to CSU, and yet I feel like CSU is not supporting me at all.
“If CSU wants to invest in their long-term success, they need to start investing and keeping students on campus. They need to start focusing on what retention efforts are looking like for students who already can’t afford to be here.
“Why is it my responsibility to fight to be here when CSU should be fighting for me to be here?”
Reporter Kelly Lyell covers education and other topics of interest for the Coloradoan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/KellyLyell or facebook.com/KellyLyell.news.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado State students fear tuition increase will hurt diversity