Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a limit on executive pay because he thought UC and CSU needed flexibility to compete nationally and internationally in attracting talent. The same proposal may go before Gov. Jerry Brown, who tried to stop a San Diego State University pay raise.
Like on CSU and UC campuses across the state, students attending freshman orientation at Sacramento State are worried about whether they can afford to graduate, given the two tuition hikes just in the past year alone.
The increases come on the heels of six-figure salary bumps. The new San Diego State President, Elliot Hirshman, is making $100,000 more than his predecessor. And the CEO of the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, Mark Laret, got a $200,000 raise, plus a million-dollar retention bonus over four years.
"This is my first year at college and I already had to take out two loans," said CSU freshman Marcella Lucas. "That concerns me because in the future, if they're getting raises and more raises, that means I might have to take out more and more loans and that's going to put me in further debt."
State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is trying to put the brakes on executive raises, re-introducing a bill that would ban pay hikes at public universities during bad budget years. He's hoping to send a clear message.
"You ought to focus on why you are here. Why you're in the position you are. And that is to help our students become the very best, not for you to get rich," said Yee.
Both UC and CSU say they haven't analyzed Yee's proposal yet, but just last week a Cal State spokeswoman said tuition hikes are due to state budget cuts, not executive salaries. They also need to be able to recruit and retain the best people.
"The presidents, as a whole for the entire system, their salaries are actually lagging about 52 percent for comparable institutions," said Kim Nava, a Cal State Sacramento spokeswoman.
Still, parents of CSU students say it's time to end the salary increases, especially when they aren't getting any.
"For them to get a pay raise and we're here spending extra money to pay for our kids, struggling to pay for our kids for school, it's not fair. That's not fair," said Kyuna Gonzalez, parent of a CSU student.
The U.S. Dept. of Education produced a new list this month showing colleges with the fastest-rising tuition, and all but one CSU campus, Sonoma State, made the list.