Following a $7.5 million plunge in state funding for CSU this fiscal year and a presumably larger one due in the next, interim CSU President Tony Frank said Thursday that although he does not support a privatized tuition model, funding options are running low.
After receiving recommendations of a $100 million statewide cut to higher education from Gov. Bill Ritter this week, Frank said he believes the Joint Budget Committee and General Assembly will heed the governor’s words, potentially resulting in heightened tuition costs in coming years.
Frank compared the process of privatization – an option which allows universities to make up for a lacking state funding system by hiking tuition rates – to a car sales model, in which an entity selling a vehicle sets a price higher than what the product costs and then discounts the automobile according to the person purchasing it.
Frank said he hopes CSU will not have to resort to raising prices for students, an option which CU-Boulder and the University of Northern Colorado have already stated they’re considering.
“I think the problem is that for public higher education . we’re not in the business of turning profit,” he said. “But to the extent that the state of Colorado – and that means all of us, not just the state government – doesn’t solve the problem of how to fund various public services, there aren’t a lot of choices other than charging people more if the state is going to contribute less.”
Many argue, though, that institutions of higher learning already condone a more hybrid model of privatized funding.
Nate Haas, head spokesperson for the University of Northern Colorado, said their model still depends on the receipt of some state dollars but would allow the university to have a multi-year pricing plan in place that would not fluctuate according to the amount of state funding granted.
“The scramble is on every year,” he said. “We’d like to have a (privatized) model like this in place so that when times like this come along, we’re well-equipped to handle it. It’s not just a matter of balancing the checkbook, but instead a matter of giving us a plan for years to come.”
Haas said that by giving individual institution governing boards the ability to set and adjust tuition, schools would also gain the ability to package financial aid, grants and scholarships with increased flexibility, discounting rates according to the student receiving them.
“We wouldn’t be ignoring our duty to provide funding and financial aid packages to students who are most in need,” he said.
While Haas said he got the feeling that interest in this model extended past his own campus, CSU political science professor John Straayer said a decreased demand for state funds would be “unwise to the extreme.”
“When a business or industry decides where they want to be, they look for, among the things, a solid infrastructure, solid higher education funding and solid transportation models,” he said.
“In economic bad times, what do you want to do? You want to tear apart the pieces of the public apparatus that make the state most economically viable – And that is absurd. To privatize a state university is off-the-charts irresponsible.”
Frank said he will continue to gather suggestions from faculty, staff and his own cabinet regarding different money-saving tactics, which so far include salary reductions, position eliminations and furloughs, or unpaid leave.
“There has been a strong sense from across various areas that people would prefer to look at salary reductions as opposed to loss of jobs,” he said.
He said personnel cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, are unlikely, though cuts for the 2009 to 2010 fiscal year “do look deeper.”
State budget hearings begin March 11, and in mid-April, Frank said, a draft budget will be turned over to the campus for review and comment.
News Managing Editor Elyse Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.