Apr 052009
 
Authors: Elyse Jarvis

As the state makes amendments to its annual budget proposal — the Long Bill — this week, CSU administration said tuition spikes are already planned.

Interim CSU President Tony Frank said reduction scenarios are not yet finalized, but CSU is operating under the assumption that tuition fees will see the following increases:

A 9 percent swell in undergraduate resident tuition rates,

A 3 percent swell in non-resident undergraduate rates,

A 15 percent swell in resident graduate rates and

A 5 percent swell in non-resident graduate rates.

The increases are in response to the Wednesday announcement that Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee, a bipartisan group of legislators that drafts the budget bill, recommended a $300 million cut from state higher education funding — a strike that would chop the $130 million CSU currently receives from the state in half, Frank said.

The upsurge in requested tuition dollars was additionally made possible last week by the JBC, who did away with the former 6.5 percent spending cap, instead granting universities the authority to push tuition to “where they feel the market will bear,” said Don Marostica, Larimer County’s JBC representative.

The state, however, will only support with grants and scholarships increases of up to 9 percent, forcing schools to swallow the possibility of going under should they place too much of the monetary burden on students and see enrollment declines as a result.

Frank said the state’s higher education cuts create a hole that would be impossible to fill solely with money from students, as the market, he said, needs time to adjust to rate hikes.

“Effectively, if that amount of money went away, you would nearly need to double your tuition to make up for it,” he said, calling an increase of that size “bad educational policy.”

“As a land-grant institution, providing public access to education is heart and soul to the mission of what we do. Drastically raising tuition flies in the face of that mission.”

The cut is not yet finalized, and some members of Colorado’s legislature, such as State Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, expressed confidence that it would never be realized.

On Wednesday, Kefalas said the JBC’s plan to backfill the shortfall — by skimming off a $700 million surplus in worker’s compensation funds from Pinnacol Assurance — was “smart and creative.”

Suzi Stolte, director of communications for Pinnacol Assurance, said the agency “would look at whatever remedies were available to (it) under the law” should the legislation pass.

“We don’t want to see higher ed hurt, and we don’t want to see the state of Colorado hurt,” she said, “but, by law, Pinnacol assets belong to Pinnacol, and therefore we feel that this proposed legislation is illegal and that it would destabilize the state workers’ compensation market.”

Marostica estimated that the JBC’s chances of winning in a court battle with the agency were about 20 percent.

Steve Johnson, Larimer County commissioner and former member of the JBC, said he was “very much against” using Pinnacol funds to fill in General Fund deficits.

“I fear this will only trigger an increase in worker’s compensation insurance rates to build back the reserve,” he said in an e-mail.

Frank said he hoped this week’s budget discussions at the state capitol will result in the decision to spread the cuts across different state-funded avenues rather than just across higher education.

Taylor Smoot, president of the Associated Students of CSU, agreed.

Student government leaders will help lead a protest in Denver with universities across the state today, with the goal of asking legislators to “look for other places to cut,” Smoot said.

Should the funding decrease be approved in its final stages by Gov. Bill Ritter, Frank said the university would need time to put together a ballot measure for next fall to seek funds from voters.

“(Stimulus money and backfilling) buys you time, but this ought to cause all of us in higher ed to say ‘Okay, we’ve got a ticking clock now; how are we going to fix this long term?'” he said.

If a potential measure were to fail, Frank said CSU would need to determine which programs would be cut and by how much tuition would need to be raised — discussions which have not happened yet.

Frank said he will also spend time at the capitol building this week, seeking answers to final budget numbers.

“It’s hard to imagine there’s a much more important issue (than the budget) on the president’s agenda right now,” he said.

News Managing Editor Elyse Jarvis can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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