Dozens of students filed out of the Cal State University Chancellor’s Office in Downtown Long Beach shortly before noon Tuesday where they were met with roars of cheers from a larger group of students and faculty rallying outside. The students had just finished giving public comment at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting to vehemently oppose a 6% multi-year increase in tuition that the board will vote on tomorrow.

They chanted, “Down, down tuition hikes. Up, up student rights,” inside the chambers and, “Shut it down,” as they walked outside after two hours of public comment, according to the California Faculty Association, who were also present standing in solidarity with the students while also demanding fair pay and compensation for CSU workers across the 23-campus system.

The CSU has said that the increase in tuition, the first since the 2011-2012 academic year, is necessary to close a $1.5 billion budget gap it has accumulated as it’s attempted to keep up with rising costs like inflation and funding needed for tutoring support, instructor pay and other costs tied to educating and graduating students.

Dorhean Gaffney comes out of the California State University Chancellor’s office chanting after public comment as students protest a 6% increase in tuition fee in Long Beach on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

If approved, tuition will go up by 6% annually for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students beginning in the fall of 2024. Undergraduates would pay $324 more at the start of next year, a total of $6,084, and that rate would increase gradually to $7,682 by 2028-29.

In the first year of the plan, the CSU would generate an extra $148 million and eventually $840 million by the last.

At the rally, however, students called the budget gap a financial mismanagement issue on the CSU’s part that should not fall on the backs of students who already struggle to pay for basic needs like rent and food and have to work multiple jobs in order to afford tuition as it is.

“Why is it that the people at the top have all the money and all the power while the staff, students and faculty have to fight so hard for livable wages, for human rights issues?”

Chavez also critiqued CSU Long Beach’s slogan, “No Barriers,” which comes from a $275 million comprehensive fundraising campaign the university launched last year to “create a national model for student achievement, empowerment and equity,” according to to the university’s website.

“We have that on every street lamp and every little corner on campus, ‘No Barriers at the Beach,’ but that is simply not true,” said Chavez, especially when many students face the issues stated above.

Presidents across the CSU system have received salary increases and receive housing and car allowances on top of that—in Long Beach, President Jane Close Conoley received a 7% salary increase last year, in addition to equity adjustments based on performance and comparison to similar universities nationally.

Tyler Castilli, CSU student, holds a sign that says “Battle against the increase of tuition fee” as he and other students protest a 6% increase in tuition fee at California State University Chancellor’s office in Long Beach on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The remaining 22 campuses across the CSU have the same horror stories, said Lyssa Ortega, CSU Dominguez Hills student also with Students for Quality Education.

While the CSU has stated that nearly 60% of Cal State’s students would be unaffected by the tuition hikes because they receive state financial aid that covers their costs in full, Ortega is she is part of the group of students that does not receive financial aid.

Ortega said she is working three jobs to afford $3,000 tuition for a single class this semester. “I can’t pay for that. What am I supposed to do next semester when I’m supposed to take another fours (classes)?”

The CSU has said that the burden will not fall on the remaining 40% of students; about 18% of students would be helped by a combination of grants, scholarships or waivers. Other students receive loans, the university said.

Standing in solidarity with the students while also demanding fair pay and compensation were CSU faculty, staff and union members like Charles Toombs, California Faculty Association president and professor at San Diego State.

“All of the unions are negotiating with the CSU for salary increases and improved working conditions,” said Toombs. Many union proposals are urging the university system to increase wages to be competitive with other comparable institutions and private employers, raise the floor for the lowest-paid faculty and staff, and to reinstate salary steps, which ended nearly 30 years ago and have caused extreme pay disparities between long-time and newer CSU workers, according to the CFA.

Other demands from the CFA unrelated to compensation include parental leave of an entire semester for new parents, improved campus safety for students and staff, lactation rooms and gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, said Toombs.

Toombs also noted that while many more obstacles and procedures the unions will need to get through before they are allowed to strike, “You can’t wait until the last minute. You have to prepare and all of the unions are preparing in case they have to take that action.”

At the rally, the state’s lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis, who has questioned the boards tuition proposal in the past, encouraged students to not back down and continue making their voices heard.

“Nobody speaks better for you than you do. … I’ve been hearing your stories as I go across campuses and I am telling the public and the trustees that they are wrong. They don’t think this is a lot of money; it is a lot of money,” she said.

At the July trustees meeting, Kounalakis asked, “How can we possibly contemplate that kind of money, while we are talking about students who we know are not wealthy?” Students and faculty also gathered outside of the Chancellor’s office then to oppose the proposal.

After that meeting, the board confined the series of hikes to five years when it previously had no end date.

If approved, tuition rates will be reassessed beginning in July 2027 to give the board “sufficient time to consider whether any additional tuition rate changes would be implemented for the 2029-30 year,” according to the CSU website’s frequently asked questions page regarding the proposal.

The board will meet to vote on the proposal at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, at the CSU Chancellor’s Office located at 401 Golden Shore in Long Beach. The meeting livestream can be found here.