Benson: Tuition increases will help preserve CU's quality, competitive edge

In 8-1 decision this week, CU regents vote to raise tuition rates for 2010-11
By Staff

No one — from University of Colorado officials to students and families — likes the idea of tuition increases. But with CU faculty and staff continuing to work to deliver the highest-quality education possible to students, officials are pointing to the long-term value of a college degree.

"Raising tuition is never an easy decision. We know how difficult it can be for families to pay for college," said CU President Bruce D. Benson earlier this week. "These tuition increases will help us continue to deliver high quality classroom instruction and student services, while striving to keep our commitment as a public university to remain accessible to all Colorado students."

In an 8-1 vote Monday, the CU Board of Regents decided to raise resident undergraduate tuition by up to 9 percent, and nonresident undergraduate tuition by up to 5 percent on all four of the university's campuses. The vote followed a difficult discussion by the nine-member board of elected officials, who came to a majority decision despite deep political divisions. The lone dissenter was Regent Tom Lucero, R-Loveland.

The decision will mean that tuition rates for the average in-state College of Arts and Sciences undergraduate student will go up by about $572 (9 percent) at CU-Boulder for a total of $7,018 per year; by $504 (9 percent) at UC Denver for a total of $6,216 per year; and by $420 (7.2 percent) at UCCS for a total of $6,270 per year.

Nonresident undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences will pay an extra $1,300 (5 percent) for a total of $28,000 per year at CU-Boulder; $384 (2 percent) for a total of $19,128 per year at UC Denver; and $320 (2 percent) for a total of $15,920 per year at UCCS.

When other costs such as room and board, mandatory fees and textbooks are taken into consideration, the net increase in cost of attendance is only 4 percent at CU-Boulder, 4.5 percent at UC Denver and 3.5 percent at UCCS.

The regents cited the state's deep funding cuts to higher education, rising costs and an ongoing national recession as the primary reasons for the tuition increases. Their decision, made during a special meeting on the UC Denver campus in downtown Denver, followed a grim budget presentation by CU Chief Financial Officer Kelly Fox.

According to Fox, CU faces another $50 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2011-12, and the university will continue with a three-prong budget reduction plan that includes work force reductions, greater administrative efficiencies and the search for new revenue. Since last July, Colorado has cut higher education spending by nearly 60 percent, which translates into a decrease of some $2,600 per resident student funding by the state.

Fox noted that CU is being helped by federal stimulus funding that will run out in 2011. Only 3.3 percent of the university's total operating budget currently stems from taxpayer-supported state funding, and tuition is one of the few revenue sources left for public universities still reeling from the effects of the national recession. Even so, this week's tuition increases are expected to make up only 20 percent of recent state funding cuts, Fox told the regents.

Benson said tuition increases are made only when higher education institutions conclude they have few alternatives. He said this year's tuition increases would help preserve the high quality of academic programs and student services on all four CU campuses, and contribute to student financial aid. Despite the increases, CU remains a considerable value for residents and nonresidents alike, as the university's tuition rates are lower or on par with peer universities in Arizona, California, Michigan and Texas, which receive much greater state support, he said.

"CU is a low-state-funding, low-tuition university, which is rare among national public universities," he said.

Benson, who graduated from CU in 1964 with a geology degree and went on to found his own company, added, "In the end, it's important for students and their families to remember that a college education is, perhaps, the greatest investment they can make in a young person's life. Higher education is a long-term investment that pays high dividends over the life of an individual, and the innovation, technology, start-up companies, jobs and expertise that emerge from our campuses are important economic drivers for the state of Colorado."

Before deciding to cast a reluctant vote to raise tuition rates at CU, Regent Michael Carrigan, D-Denver, condemned what he called Colorado's "chronic failure to invest in higher education," and apologized to families who will have to pay higher tuition rates.

"To our students and their families, we have to ask you to share the burden and share the pain of the state's cuts, and we ask you to join us in the fight, to the state's leaders, to demand that they fully invest in our colleges and universities."