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What is the price of success? For Sonoma State University students, it might be $500 a year.

School administrators are considering imposing what they are calling an Academic Success fee on top of campus fees that are among the highest in the state university system.

Officials said the fee, which could be as much as $250 a semester, is needed to make up for a budget shortfall. Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposes an increase of $142 million for the 23-school system, but well below the $237 million the CSU board requested to meet enrollment demand.

Students say the fee is another burden at a time when rising expenses have made money tight.

At Sonoma State, the fee would be used to hire new teachers, increase classes that are highly in demand and help students graduate in four years, provost Andrew Rogerson said.

"It would be in response to the dip in state funding," he said. "One hundred percent would be used for academics."

Rogerson stressed that a decision has not yet been made on whether to impose the fee, and university officials are seeking student input on the proposal.

Students may have an opportunity to vote on the fee in a referendum, or the university could impose the fee unilaterally after consulting with student groups, Rogerson said.

The fee would take effect this fall.

Mac Hart, president of Associated Students at Sonoma State, said the student government body is doing its own outreach to gauge student opinion on the fee.

"We have yet to receive a detailed plan as to what the Academic Success fee will include. Such a plan is expected from the Provost's office in the next few weeks," he said via email. "In the meantime we are conducting extensive outreach throughout campus to get input from students as to their perspective on the issue and if a fee is the type of solution they are interested in pursuing further."

Sonoma State campus fees are currently $902 per semester, third-highest in the CSU system. Campus fees are in addition to the $2,736-per-semester systemwide tuition for full-time undergraduate students.

Rogerson said that the purpose of the proposed fee is to give students access to more classes so they can obtain a degree in less time. Students spend up to $17,000 per year at Sonoma State including room, board and other expenses, he said.

"Students would be able to get the largest menu of classes and get out of here in four years," Rogerson said.

Nine other campuses collect success fees including Cal State Easy Bay, San Jose State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, according to Laurie Weidner, spokeswoman for the CSU system.

"The intent of the Student Success Fee is to provide financial support to those areas of the university where it can have the greatest impact on student retention and graduation," she said in an email. "In some cases, the fee revenue establishes new programs of student support, while in others, revenues are allocated to provide additional support to existing programs, many of which have been severely impacted by budget shortfalls."

Many students feel that the additional fee would strain their already tight budgets and is unnecessary. Pauline Meehan, a junior criminal justice major who was studying in the new $62 million student center on Tuesday, said $500 is a lot of money to students.

"It isn't petty money," she said. "They keep raising and raising fees and we don't see anything from it. I don't see why they can't make what we're paying now work."

Most financial aid packages would not cover the additional fee, said director of financial aid Susan Gutierrez. Only a federal Plus Loan, which is available to parents of students, increases as total costs increase. A state Cal Grant covers tuition but not campus fees.

"Given the current state of the economy, it's been very difficult in the last six or seven years for families to pay for college," Gutierrez said. "The portion that students and families are paying is going up, and the state is paying less."

Bree Bonetti, 22, is on track to graduate this May with a degree in human development after four years at Sonoma State. She said the fee would be a good idea if the university administration used it to increase class offerings.

"It could be reasonable," she said. "If they do what they say they are going to do, then it could be worth it. It's hard to trust the administration."

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.