CSSA 2017/2018 Public Policy Agenda

September 8, 2017

 

As the president of the Cal State Student Association (CSSA), it is an honor to serve alongside my fellow student leaders from the 23 California State University (CSU) campuses who comprise the CSSA Board of Directors. As an organization, we collectively serve as the single recognized voice for CSU students as we advocate for student interests and engage in public higher education policy making at the systemwide, statewide, and federal levels.

We are proud to present CSSA’s 2017-18 Public Policy Agenda. This policy agenda outlines the four priority areas through which the CSSA Board of Directors will focus its advocacy efforts. As you will see, ensuring an affordable, safe & inclusive, equitable, and supportive educational experience is the priority of the 2017-18 CSSA Board of Directors. With passion and determination, we will develop and pursue strategies to represent and protect the collective interests of more than 475,000 students.

 

Maggie White
President, Cal State Student Association

Mental health is an influential factor in the personal well-being and academic success of college students. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 75% of lifetime mental health conditions begin before the age of 24 and the rate of psychological distress for California public college students was found to be higher than the general population, making college campuses an essential player in mental health awareness and treatment in the state of California.i College students with mental health conditions often experience a mental health crisis while on campus, but many students report that their campus was unaware of their need for help–with some students never seeking counseling or treatment at all.

The California State University serves a diverse student body including historically marginalized populations, veterans, and undocumented students who may often face unique challenges to accessing and utilizing mental health services. A 2016 National College Health Assessmentii found that, within the CSU system, students of color and students of non-binary gender were more likely to have experienced depression and attempted suicide than other students surveyed. Furthermore, the same assessment found that nearly half of the students surveyed had reported impediments to their academic performance related to their mental health, including stress, anxiety, and discrimination–with students of color and non-binary gender students disproportionately experiencing these impediments. Without the issue of mental health being addressed, many CSU students will continue to be at risk of not completing their college degree.

For today’s college students, the cost of higher education goes well beyond tuition and fees. Like all Californians, students are not immune to the high costs of living in the Golden State. Those costs to live, which have escalated over time, combined with rising tuition, create a far different challenge than previous generations faced attending a public institution of higher education, with average student loan debt on the rise and a significant portion of students reporting that their basic needs (like housing and food) are not being met. Because of the financial burden that comes with pursuing a college degree, many students must depend on various forms of financial aid.

Though many CSU students have benefitted from state and federal financial aid, it is important to note that most financial aid does not support students’ costs to live, which are a major burden to obtaining a college degree. Financial aid covers tuition and campus-based fees for 46% of CSU students; however, it is often the non-tuition living expenses that make graduating without debt an improbability.iii While the average cost to attend a CSU is around $25,400 a year, tuition and fees comprise only about a quarter of that total cost. iv The challenges of covering these additional costs are demonstrated by the fact that although nearly half of all CSU students have their tuition and campus-based fees covered, 78% of all bachelor’s degree recipients in 2015-16 who graduated with debt had annual family incomes of less than $54,000.

Beyond tuition, it has become evident that students are making difficult choices between focusing on school and making sure their basic needs are met, with three out of four CSU students working more than 20 hours per week and a significant portion of students reporting they experience food and housing insecurity.vii The ever-escalating costs of pursuing a college education can hinder both access and success for many students.

Campus climate, or the “current attitudes, behaviors and standards of faculty, staff, administrators and students concerning the level of respect for individual needs, abilities and potential” is influential to every student’s success, including academically.viii With increasingly diverse student populations at the California State University, it is critical that campuses develop safe and inclusive environments where students can learn without fear of retaliation for a difference of opinion, lifestyle, discernible personal characteristics, or citizenship status. According to the 2016 California State University Student Health, Wellness, and Safety

According to the 2016 California State University Student Health, Wellness, and Safety Report,ix threats to the wellness and safety were most prevalent among students of color and students of non-binary gender. For example, the incidences of physical assault on non-white students was more than twice as high compared to their white student counterparts and students of nonbinary gender were more likely to report being verbally threatened and feeling that discrimination impeded their academic performance Additionally, female students and nonbinary students were more likely to report sexual misconduct as “very much a problem” than males and less than half of all students felt that campus administrators would take a sexual misconduct report seriously. Furthermore, the political landscape has produced an unprecedented level of uncertainty and anxiety for undocumented students who are unsure of how to access social services and/or fear they or their family may be at risk for deportation.x Undocumented students’ fear of fully engaging was demonstrated in various ways, but of particular note was in the spring of 2017 when California Dream Act applications were down more than 10,000 from the previous year.xi Ultimately, the inequitable experiences of students accessing safe and inclusive environments across the CSU hinders the ability of some students more than others to succeed and graduate in a timely manner.

Ultimately, the inequitable experiences of students accessing safe and inclusive environments across the CSU hinders the ability of some students more than others to succeed and graduate in a timely manner.

Every student of the CSU should have the same opportunity to succeed. While steps have been taken over the last decade to eliminate achievement gaps in the CSU, significant gaps persist and students are still faced with inequitable barriers to completion. In fact, despite graduation rates increasing for all groups since 2000, the gap in graduation rates for students from underrepresented minority groups and low-income Pell grant recipients–who comprise the majority of the CSU student body–did not close, but in fact remained the same at nearly 12% lower.xii Data reveals that the same inequities persist for transfer students of color as well, with Black and Latino students being less likely to complete their degree in two or three years compared to white students.xiii Many of these barriers to a timely graduation have been identified, including lack of course availability, institutional/administrative policies, and the negative effect of current remedial/developmental education pathways.xiv However, other barriers may be less discussed but equally important to the academic success of CSU students, such as faculty diversity–which, although has improved slightly over time, is still overwhelmingly white and not representative of the CSU student body.xv In order to address known barriers and identify unknown barriers to student success, an equity-minded approach should be taken by CSU faculty, staff, and administrators in order to “call attention to patterns of inequity in student outcomes, take personal and institutional responsibility for the success of their students, and critically reassess their own practices.”xvi

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