Cal State’s Terrible “College Completion” Plan

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, many branches of California State University are working on an interesting plan to try to get more students graduating: give students extra help, and then charge them more for it.

The universities also are under increasing pressure to improve retention and graduation rates — efforts that officials maintain don’t come cheaply.

“We have to look to high-impact practices such as increasing advisement, supplemental instruction, expanding library services and internships,” said Berenecea Johnson Eanes, vice president of student affairs at Cal State Fullerton….”But the budget situation for the state is still tenuous.”

Cal State campuses in Fullerton, Dominguez Hills, Fresno, and San Diego are thinking about extra fees, from $200 to $500 per semester, in order to “offer the promise of more classes and programs.” Nine other Cal State branches already charge the extra fees.

Opponents say it’s a way to avoid hiking tuition by charging mandatory fees just to do the things colleges are supposed to do: educate students

According to Cal State University, Dominguez Hills, President Willie Hagan the extra fees would really be, you know, for the good of the students:

We have a student body that deserves to have the best education we can provide. We’re in an area where there are a lot of underserved school districts, where students are dealing with crime, poverty and families to care for and they need more support. As president, I feel like I can’t sit back and say, well there is a potential solution, but I’m not going to go down that path.

Well no. Educating students at a low cost is just what Cal State is supposed to do. If your students need more help to graduate it’s your duty to provide that service. These aren’t open admission schools, after all. If “crime, poverty and families to care for” means the students aren’t prepared to succeed, why is the school admitting such students?

Leaving aside the questions of fairness here (and the questionable logic of blaming student poverty for low graduation rates and then fixing that problem by making students even more poor), what really makes this a particularly bad plan is that it won’t work to improve college completion. It would likely do the opposite.

While in theory it makes some sense to charge people more money so that a college can offer them more services, the truth is that the main reason students drop out of college is that they’re having financial problems.

College is too expensive. Indeed, in the last 60 years, as college costs have increased, college completion has plummeted. Charging students at Cal State schools more money to go to college, no matter what euphemism the institutions are using to describe that increase, will probably make college completion even more difficult for students. It won’t increase the schools’ graduation rates.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer