California State University trustees recently voted to increase the cost of applying to each of the system’s 23 campuses from $55 to $70 starting in the fall, the first increase in 30 years.
Despite last-minute efforts by opponents to block the fee hike or to phase it in more slowly, the full board voted 12-6 on July 17 for the higher costs to go into effect this year. The increase would still allow low- and moderate-income students to receive up to four fee waivers. Under the new plan, officials say that even more students would be eligible for the waivers.
The $15 increase in each application fee is estimated to produce about $7 million in additional revenue to run the application portal and help offset admissions review costs. Officials said that those programs are operating at a loss since revenue has not gone up in three decades and that other university funds are subsidizing them.
Student trustee Juan Garcia led an unsuccessful effort against the increase, saying that it would be “a barrier to students who have not even enrolled yet.” He said it would discourage students who don’t qualify for the waivers, but don’t have high incomes.
Administrators note that 46 percent of applicants receive the fee waivers and that an accompanying change in income guidelines and extra available revenue will likely raise that to about 50 percent of applicants. They also said the fee hike will finance improvements to the online technology that handles the nearly one million applications sent to individual campuses from about 315,000 freshmen and transfer applicants the system receives in a year.
To qualify for a waiver, for a dependent student from a household of four, family income would need to be below about $45,400, although family circumstances can change eligibility.
Trustee Peter Taylor said on July 23 that he supported the increase and noted that he was “struck by the fact we can add more fee waivers and serve more low-income students, not fewer.” In addition, he argued that the fact that the fee remained unchanged for 30 years shows that it is time to help pay for improvements in the application process and technology.
However, state Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, who is a CSU trustee through the duties of her office, opposed the item. Given that state revenues for the CSU system rose significantly for 2019-20, keeping the application fees at $55 would be “a signal to students that we recognize the hardships and the costs for so many of our students,” Kounalakis said.
She said application fees can be a barrier to entry and “symbolically and as a practical matter should be as low as possible.”
Students use one online application and simply check off the campuses where they want to be considered. On average, freshman applicants try between three and four campuses. However, some students apply to a dozen or more.
A $70 per-campus application fee would match that of the 10-campus University of California system and many other universities, public and private, around the country, officials said.