students walking past campus library
What Tuition Covers

What College Tuition Covers​

The CSU provides a high-quality education while keeping costs to a minimum.
Here’s a breakdown of how your dollars are being spent.


As the cost of college tuition rises, so does the level of frustration for parents and students. But they're not alone. A 2018 Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Statewide Survey found that 58 percent of Californians think the affordability of higher education needs to be addressed.

Part of the problem is the decrease in state funding historically. According to a PPIC study, “California invests less per student (adjusted for inflation) at its public universities than it did 30 years ago. When state contributions dropped dramatically during the Great Recession, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) increased tuition to make up for lost revenue."

While the economic commitment might seem daunting at first, it's important not to lose sight of the long-term gains obtaining a college degree will provide. It's the best investment one can make for his or her future in terms of earning potential and social mobility.

The CSU provides a high-quality education while undertaking every effort to keep student costs to a minimum, making the CSU an extraordinary value among higher education institutions. In fact, several CSU campuses are often listed in Forbes magazine's annual ranking of the nation's top schools with the highest quality and best financial outcomes.

The total of the CSU’s resident undergraduate tuition and average campus-based fees is lower than those of fifteen comparison institutions historically identified by the California Postsecondary Education Commission. The 2019-2020 comparison institution tuition and fee average is $11,932, and the CSU tuition and fee average is $7,337, or 39 percent lower than the comparison average. ​

During this time of economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families are especially cognizant of their budgets. But it's more important than ever to keep persisting toward graduation.

Here, we explore what goes into the costs behind an education at the California State University. 

How does ​the CSU receive funding?

​The CSU's academic and student support programs are supported by two main funding sources: the state General Fund (allocated by the state legislature and governor and funded through taxpayer dollars) and tuition and fees (provided by students and their families). Those funding sources are folded into the CSU's operating fund and that fund pays for instruction and services.  Currently, state funding covers slightly more than half of the CSU's operating costs, with tuition and fees making up for the remainder.

After each November Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting, the CSU BOT presents the governor's office with a budget request to support the university's most pressing needs such as student success initiatives like Graduation Initiative 2025 or increased enrollment for the following fiscal year. The governor then makes a recommendation to the state legislature in January. The CSU works with all of its stakeholders to make a case for additional funding in Sacramento throughout the spring. The CSU receives more (or less) state General Fund each July based on the state's economy and the policy choices made by the governor and state legislature.

“Tuition and the state General Fund are spent together on all of the CSU's core expenses," says Kara Perkins, executive budget director at the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “We don't delineate what tuition pays for versus the state General Fund. A good example of this is a person with two jobs. Which paycheck pays for rent versus groceries?"

Enterprise activities, auxiliaries and philanthropic support are additional revenue needed for essential services that supplement operating activities. Parking, student housing and certificate programs are examples of common campus enterprise activities. Auxiliaries include most campus bookstores and campus dining facilities and student unions. Campuses rely on philanthropic support through their foundations to fundraise for scholarships, receive grants from private funders and government agencies and to fund capital campaigns for new facilities.  

student sitting in chair using a laptop computer

What does tuition cover?

Tuition rates are set at the system level, and all CSU campuses charge the same rate annually. “Fundamentally, tuition, along with the state General Fund, cover the cost of classes and all the academic and student support services that go along with them," says Ryan Storm, assistant vice chancellor for budget. This includes salaries for professors and staff. In addition to salaries and wages, the CSU's operating fund annual expenses include:

  • Benefits: health insurance, retirement, social security, dental, Medicare
  • Supplies and services: contract services, utilities, insurance, travel, equipment, information technology, library materials
  • Student financial aid: grants and scholarships
  • Capital: design, construction and equipment

What tuition doesn't cover

Tuition does not go toward the cost of student housing, dining services, items purchased at the bookstore or parking. In other words, if a student is in need of additional services above and beyond the core educational experience, those are separate charges by the university and paid out of pocket by students and their families or covered through a student's financial aid package.​ 

“Everyone has their own mix of what they need to help supplement their education," Storm explains. “If you're living with your parents, you might not have any housing costs. Whereas if you're an independent student, you may opt to live in campus housing and have that additional cost.​"​  

female student wearing a facemask while sitting at an outdoor table using a laptop computer

How has COVID-19 affected funding?

COVID-19 has dramatically affected campus housing, dining and parking enterprises because students are not on campus to take advantage of these services. But just because most students are learning virtually, that doesn't result in a significant decrease in costs for the university. "The vast majority of our costs are still in place and the biggest piece is faculty and staff salaries and benefits," Storm says. "We can't shed those costs and lower tuition because they're tied in with people who are still delivering services and instruction to students."  

Additionally, campuses experienced increased costs to stock up on Personal Protective Equipment for staff still working on campus in the spring, and in preparation for the fall. Also, the CSU bought 25,200 laptops and tablets and 12,000 Wi-Fi hotspots for staff, faculty and students who needed them to continue their work or studies from their homes.

“Many campuses also invested to make Wi-Fi available in outdoor common areas, including parking lots around campus so students could have a good online connection if one was not available to them where they live," Perkins explains.

Over the summer, CSU faculty were trained in online delivery and pedagogy in order to offer students the highest quality learning experience possible.

“Faculty have eagerly engaged in robust professional learning focused on engaging students in deep, equitable learning online in unprecedented numbers," says Emily Daniell Magruder, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning at CSU Office of the Chancellor. “We have never offered professional learning in the summer on a scale remotely approaching what we have achieved this summer."

All professional training has taken place online, which has given faculty—many of whom had not previously taught or learned online—the opportunity to experience well-designed online learning. “That alone will make a tremendous difference on how courses are conducted in remote and online modalities this fall," Dr. Mag​ruder says. “Faculty and students are learning together how to respond to a global crisis with resilience."

Learn more about tuition and fees at the CSU​