Regents talk tuition increase cap, but delay decision

Resolution tabled after some say it's too early in budget process

A resolution that sought to cap the University of Colorado's in-state tuition at no more than 4 percent for the 2011-2012 fiscal year was tabled indefinitely after discussion at today's special meeting of the Board of Regents.

Under the proposed measure, sponsored by four of the nine regents, the recommended tuition for the year would remain constant, but if the need arose because of cuts in state funding, the increase in tuition would not rise above 4 percent.

Regents pushing for a cap were Jim Geddes, R-Sedalia; Tom Lucero, R-Berthoud; Monisha Merchant, D-Lakewood; and Joe Neguse, D-Boulder. The four voted against tabling the measure, but the remaining five regents said the proposal was premature and voted accordingly.

The university filed financial accountability plans Oct. 1 with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education saying it wants the option of seeking a 9.5 percent increase for fiscal year 2011-2012. Under a new law passed this year, CU and other state higher education institutions are required to file the plans if they are considering increases above 9 percent. Colleges and universities do not have to alert the CCHE if they are considering increases of 9 percent or below.

The rates requested are not set in stone. CU likely won't set a tuition level until next spring.

Many institutions asked for tuition hikes because the amount of funding from the state for next year and beyond is uncertain, and one worst-case scenario suggested funding could be trimmed by as much as 50 percent.

The state cut $50 million in funding from CU's budget in fiscal year 2008-09 and an additional $71 million in 2009-2010. Although much of the funding gap was filled by $121 million in American Reinvestment and Recover Act dollars, those funds will not be available for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

As the state's unemployment level hovers at 8.2 percent, the burden of paying for college has shifted from parents to students, Merchant said.

"I agree that a college education is one of the best investments an individual can make in her life and it is also an incredible investment for the people of Colorado," she said. "For every dollar that we as Colorado taxpayers invest in the University of Colorado, the return on our investment is $40."

She added that over the years, students have been asked to pay higher tuition and student fees to cover construction and degree-specific costs and shortfalls in state funding. "We can't ask our students to bear the burden anymore."

Regent Geddes said more funding options should be explored. He said savings might come from the operational budget, a 10 percent reduction in financial aid, and/or salary reductions. Because of the economic duress students are experiencing, it is "not the time to increase tuition rates," he said.

But Regent Michael Carrigan, D-Denver, said it is too early to decide on tuition levels now, long before state funding for higher education has been determined.

"We all want to avoid tuition increases," said CU system spokesman Ken McConnellogue. "But we believe that it is premature to limit a key revenue option before knowing what our state funding will be. We worry that it could have unintended consequences of diminishing quality and financial aid and student services."

State funding for resident students at CU has declined by about $2,700, and tuition increases make up only 20 percent of the decline.

In-state tuition for a majority of students attending CU — undergraduates enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences — is $7,018. Under the regents' proposal, tuition would increase by no more than $281. If tuition is increased by 9.5 percent, the cost of tuition would be $7,685 (an increase of $667).

Representatives of faculty, staff and student groups said the proposal was introduced so quickly they did not have a chance to discuss the proposal with constituents.

"Obviously we are not setting tuition rates today," Neguse said. "What you are seeing ... is several regents who have come to the conclusion that we can no longer put the cost on the backs of our students."

Neguse said all the regents share the same concern when it comes to quality of education at CU. "But at the end of the day, cost matters, and I certainly am reluctant to support the kind of tuition increases that the board has approved in the past."

For fiscal year 2009-2010, tuition for full-time CU students was increased 8.8 percent. The cost is still considered low compared to peer universities.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education will review the financial plans submitted by colleges and universities and make decisions in December.