The decision comes at a time when tuition increases loom and cuts to faculty and staff are a possibility.
According to the Chancellor's office, campus presidents' salaries have been frozen since 2007.
The new president at Cal State Northridge will be paid $324,500, 10 percent more than the previous president. The raise will be paid for by the university's foundation, funded by private donors.
The raises for the other new presidents will also be paid for by the university's foundations. One new campus president will be paid less than his predecessor.
The trustees approved the pay packages Tuesday. The one "No" vote came from the student member of the board.
A few weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown tied state budgets to Proposition 30, a proposed tax hike. If voters approve the hike in November, state universities would get $125 million in funds. But if it does not pass, the CSU system will be faced with a mid-year funding cut of $250 million.
"We've lost about a billion dollars in state funding since 2007-2008. We have another potential $250-million cut, so it's been extremely challenging," said CSU Chancellor's Office spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp.
As a result, Cal State chancellors will decide between two cost-saving options:
- Increase tuition next spring by $150 per semester, or about 5 percent. Teacher salaries will be cut by 2 percent as well.
- Reduce enrollment by 6,000 for the next school year and cut 750 jobs.
Chancellors are considering using private foundation money for the approved pay raises. But some can't understand why that money isn't being used for the benefit of students instead.
"If a foundation can pay for a salary increase, why can't a foundation also support students and courses?" said professor Teri Yamada, who teaches Asian studies at Cal State Long Beach.
But Uhlenkamp says that money is only a small part of the budget.
"It's private funding and it's a very small piece of the overall picture," said Uhlenkamp. "If you took the entirety of the salaries of the CSU presidents, it's less than 1 percent of our entire budget."
"I've had students in my office crying because they couldn't get the minimum number of units they need to keep their financial aid," said Jonathan Karpf, a biological anthropologist at San Jose State University.
No decision on cost-saving options will be made until September. Until then, both sides will rally support for the one thing they do agree upon: the Proposition 30 tax increase on November's ballot.
"If it doesn't pass, it'll be devastating for the people of California, and for the Cal State University and the UC, the K through 12 schools," said Karpf.
If Prop. 30 passes, the CSU will still need to come up with cost-saving plan, which would include taking $75 million from a continuing education fund and increasing some student fees. CSU schools have already raised tuition fees by about 23 percent in recent years.