May 14, 2020
The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
Sacramento, California 95814
Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:
As directed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, my office conducted an audit of California State University (CSU) campuses' charging of campus-based student fees (mandatory fees). Our assessment focused on mandatory fees at four CSU campuses, as well as the role of the CSU Office of the Chancellor (Chancellor's Office) in overseeing those fees. This report concludes that mandatory fees represent an increasing financial burden to students and do not receive the same oversight as other sources of CSU revenue, such as tuition and state General Fund support.
Growth in mandatory fees has made CSU attendance increasingly expensive. The mandatory fee amount, averaged across all 23 CSU campuses, increased by 56 percent—from $1,047 to $1,633—from academic years 2011–12 through 2019–20. The majority of students at the campuses we reviewed paid for mandatory fee costs without help from financial aid, using student loans or paying out-of-pocket instead. Tuition, which increased only $270 over the same period, has been relatively stable because of tuition freezes that the Legislature negotiated with the CSU. Campuses told us that they had to establish and increase mandatory fees because of insufficient state funding. However, even though the CSU now receives more combined tuition and General Fund revenue per student than it did before the onset of the last state budget crisis in fiscal year 2007–08, campuses have not decreased their mandatory fees in response.
We also determined that campuses use significant amounts of mandatory fee revenue to support core CSU functions, such as funding faculty and academic support staff; purchasing instructional materials, equipment, and software; and paying for physical improvements to academic spaces. In other words, campuses are using mandatory fees to pay for the same expenses and functions that tuition and the General Fund allocations support. However, mandatory fees do not receive the same oversight as those other revenue sources, and they circumvent certain requirements that the Legislature put in place to ensure accountability to students.
Finally, flaws in the Chancellor's Office's fee policy—and in its enforcement of that policy—have also led to instances of campuses establishing or increasing mandatory fees without adequately justifying the need or sufficiently consulting with students. There is currently little chance that campuses will reduce or eliminate mandatory fees unless the Legislature makes significant changes to the current system.
ELAINE M. HOWLE, CPA
California State Auditor