Board of Regents receives grim budget outlook, plans March 29 tuition vote

Board hears recommendations to raise tuition up to 9 percent
By Staff

By Deborah Méndez-Wilson

The University of Colorado system is considering a proposal to raise tuition starting this fall by up to 9 percent for resident undergraduate students on three of its campuses.

During a special meeting today in Denver, the CU Board of Regents received a grim budget overview for the university, and scheduled a March 29 tuition-setting meeting on the UC Denver Downtown Campus. The regents said they wanted to gather more input and public comment from students, faculty and staff before voting on the proposed tuition increases.

"We need time to communicate with students and faculty," said Regent Michael Carrigan, D-Denver.

The proposal to raise tuition for resident undergraduate students in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver is in line with the 9 percent cap set by Gov. Bill Ritter earlier this year. Among other goals, the proposed tuition increases would help the university offset a severe state funding shortfall, maintain the quality of its academic programs and student services, and keep its pool of institutional financial aid for low- and middle-income students, administrators said.

If the board increases tuition by up to 9 percent, it would translate into a $580 annual increase for the average College of Arts & Sciences resident undergraduate student at CU-Boulder; $504 at UC Denver; and $420 at UCCS.

"As a whole, students don't want to see an increase in tuition," said Dustin Farivar, chair of the CU Intercampus Forum, a student governance group.

Farivar said most students understand CU is grappling with serious budget challenges, but want to make sure the university remains committed to access and affordability for all students. He urged the regents to ensure that CU campuses maintain the necessary staff and resources to shepherd students from high schools into college and help them matriculate successfully after they arrive at CU.

"We have low-income and medium-income families trying to plan for educating their children now and in the coming years," he said. "The college application process is complicated and the financial aid process is that much more complicated. We want to make sure those resources are available."

State cuts to higher education have made it difficult for CU and other Colorado universities to avoid broaching the idea of tuition increases to help fill their funding gaps.

Since July, CU has watched its state funding plummet by 58 percent, down from $209 million to $88 million, and administrators believe it is likely to continue to decline as state lawmakers struggle to balance the state's budget amid declining tax revenues. Under a worst-case scenario, the university is projecting a funding gap of $170 million through fiscal year 2012.

The CU system is addressing its funding shortfall through continued budget cuts, greater administrative efficiencies and revenue enhancements, but the university might not be able to rely on significant state support in the future, said Kelly Fox, vice president and chief financial officer for the CU system.

"The state is still grappling with this idea that higher education could be looking at zero funding, or a very limited pool of funding," she told the regents during her budget overview.

The university currently is backfilling its budget shortfall with federal stimulus funding that will run out at the end of the 2011 fiscal year. Fox told the regents that a recent report indicated that Colorado's universities are more reliant on stimulus dollars than other institutions around the country, an indication that they have absorbed more cuts proportionately than their peers.

California is next highest on the list for state educational systems that are relying on stimulus dollars to stay in business, "and we've seen the headlines in California," Fox said. "It's a serious situation there."