Board of Regents: Summer retreat coverage

Educating STEM students a driver of cost increases
By Staff

It’s a common lament that higher education expenditures increase at rates faster than inflation, and theories abound as to why that is: administrative bloat, luxurious amenities for students, light faculty teaching loads, runaway salaries.

The CU Board of Regents has also posed the question about how much the university spends to educate a student as part of its larger budget discussions. CU Vice President for Finance Todd Saliman told the Board of Regents at its summer retreat earlier this month that the real reason might be because the university is doing what the public and lawmakers expect – preparing more students in STEM disciplines.

“There’s this push to get students to enroll in STEM-oriented programs and we’re doing it,” Saliman said.

And while some programs in the sciences charge higher tuition rates, that does not offset expenditures in high-cost areas such as laboratories and technology. Saliman debunked several myths in his presentation, including one that the number of CU employees – particularly administrators – has grown dramatically. In fact, a 15-year historical looks showed the staffing-to-student ratio has remained consistent. Average salary and average total compensation growth between 2011 and 2014 are both below inflation.

Saliman said it’s clear that student majors are shifting from relatively low-cost humanities programs to higher cost STEM programs on each campus, helping explain why spending per student sometimes exceeds inflation.

The regents said the data is a good baseline to assess what it takes to educate a student at CU and promised further discussion on the issue.

In other business, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak told the regents that CU’s new online education initiative is on track to launch this fall. The university now has some 40,000 online enrollments, which is expected to rise dramatically in coming years.

The four campus chancellors last fall committed to leading a unified effort to bolster CU’s place in an already-crowded online education market. They convened four committees comprising staff from each campus and system to address issues in academic offerings, technology, budget and marketing.

The committees have been working on issues as diverse as concurrent enrollment, authorization of programs in different states, a digital support center and program/course development.

“We’re making great progress but we still have many issues to address,” Shockley-Zalabak said.

President Bruce Benson has made centralized funding available over the next three years for program development ($4 million, with an additional $1 million to be allocated based on performance), centralized marketing ($1.5 million), centralized technology ($2 million) and a contingency fund ($500,000). The funding comes from initiative funds, which are earnings on CU investments.

The regents got a test drive of a new website that will be the primary portal for students. It will direct them to offerings on the campuses. Shockley-Zalabak said the primary target audiences are current CU students, new students, degree completers, transfers, high school students and professionals seeking master’s degrees or licensure.

Vice President for Communication Ken McConnellogue told the regents the marketing for the initiative will run parallel with a larger university marketing effort expected to launch this fall. Marketing for the online initiative will start with a “soft launch” this fall to current students. The team spearheading the effort will seek help from faculty, staff and students in testing the web portal. A second phase is expected to start later in the fall, aimed at all audiences.