Continued reductions in state funding force tuition raise

May 7, 2012

Matt Sidor
[email protected]

On April 27, the University of Colorado Board of Regents voted in favor of tuition increases across all CU campuses for the 2012-2013 academic year.

A rise in tuition costs had been widely anticipated (see Feb. 20 issue, “Possibility of new tuition hike to significantly affect UCCS”) but the amount of the raise ended up being significantly less than originally estimated by university officials.

Here at UCCS, tuition will be going up 4.9 percent for in-state freshmen and sophomores or about $11 per credit hour. Average tuition for underclassmen will go up from $6,720 to $7,050 per year, a difference of $330. (These figures do not include student fees.)

In-state juniors and seniors will see a slightly higher 5.0 to 5.1 percent increase, depending on the program under which they are studying.

Graduate students will bear the biggest brunt of the increases, between 5.1 and 6.1 percent, and out-of-state students will see a 3 percent increase, or about $16 per credit hour.

Last year, tuition rose by about 7 percent for in-state undergraduates. Administrators had originally given an estimate of a 7 percent increase again this year based on preliminary budget figures from the state’s general fund.

Revisions to state revenue forecasts allowed the state to include an additional $265 million in the total budget, preventing many cuts from being as dramatic as originally anticipated.

The Boulder campus had projected that tuition would need to rise by 9.3 percent to maintain their programs; this sparked a public outcry among many students at that campus. In the final budget, tuition there will rise by a lesser 5.0 percent.

The increase at the Denver campus will be just 0.8 percent, less than the current rate of inflation − effectively decreasing the cost of tuition.

“I am pleased that the UCCS tuition increase will be among the lowest percentage increases in the state and likely the lowest increase in dollars as well,” UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak stated in Communique. “Let’s remember that students pay in dollars, not in percentages.”

In a possible response to the general controversy earlier this year over large pay raises that were offered to top administrators, the new budget for the CU system has stronger restrictions on future raises.

The merit-based salary pool for professional exempt staff and faculty members will be capped at 2 percent per employee (last year, the pool was capped at 3 percent), and any exempt professional staff earning more than $175,000 per year will not be eligible for a salary increase. Additionally, staff members earning between $100,000 and $175,000 may not receive a raise of more than $2,000.

According to the Bell Policy Center in Denver, the new budget will maintain the same amount of per-pupil funding in K-12 education and restore $30 million in proposed cuts to need-based financial aid for higher education, but $5.8 million is still being cut from higher education operating budgets.

The rising costs of higher education, in addition to funding cuts from the state general fund, have resulted in a dramatic reversal in the percentages of tuition covered by the state versus what must be covered by individual families.

In 1983, the Colorado general fund paid for 60 percent of a typical in-state undergraduate’s tuition; today, it pays for just 34 percent. (This general fund reimbursement appears on tuition bills as the College Opportunity Fund (COF).)

According to Kelly Fox, CU’s vice president for budget and finance, the current level of state support for the CU system is at its lowest level in history when adjusted for inflation.

Kristina Achey, a graduate student and representative at large on the Student Government Association (SGA), has been closely following the state budget for higher education and its effects on the CU system.

In March, she attended CU Advocacy Day at the state capitol building in downtown Denver, an annual event where students, alumni and staff and faculty members are invited to rally in support of continued funding for higher education.

“CU Advocacy Day gives the opportunity to learn about what’s going on with the state general fund,” she said. “At this point, the message [from the state government] is that we’re kind of at a standstill because within fifteen years there won’t be any money available for higher education if things stay the way they are.”

She added, “Really, what we need in order for the state to pay us what we were [being paid] even just five years ago, we would need a new tax − either a tax that is just reserved for higher education, or an overall revenue increase for the state budget.”