If you’ve been absent from Fort Collins all summer, you may be startled by the changes to campus. Most noticeably, you can’t throw one of your overpriced textbooks without it landing in a construction site of some kind.
At the same time, it’s been hard to miss the news from every level of government about budget shortfalls. The state of Colorado has had to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget and higher education. Colorado’s colleges and universities, including CSU have avoided major cuts only because the federal government stepped in to fill the gap.
How can we reconcile these two things? When you see a state university engaging in its biggest building boom ever amid what Gov. Bill Ritter has labeled as “the worst economy in 75 years,” it doesn’t seem to add up.
The answer, as usual, becomes obvious when you follow the money. Let’s take a tour of the current campus construction sites, starting at the Lake Street Parking Garage. The increase in parking fees we’re seeing is going to pay, in part, for this $22 million behemoth.
Walking north, you’ll pass the site of the new Academic Instruction Building just south of the Clark building. This $45 million classroom and office building is funded, in part, by the University Facilities Fee. For renovations to classrooms in the Clark Building, the University Facilities Fee chips in again.
When we get up to Laurel Street, there’s the Business Minor Addition to Rockwell Hall, funded to the tune of $15 million, in part by — you guessed it — the University Facilities Fee. This fee, which seems to pop up everywhere, is a $10 per-credit-hour surcharge levied on each student on top of his or her tuition.
Now let’s head west. There’s the $32 million expansion to the Student Recreation Center, taking a chunk from your $80 per semester student recreation fee. Then there’s the $6 million Athletics Training Center — you may have noticed the $104 per semester athletics fee. And there’s the current phase of $20 million in new buildings at the Academic Village, whose cost is being shared by everyone who pays to live in the residence halls.
CSU can afford this because it’s racking up millions of dollars in debt, pointing to student fees as the stream of money that will make the payments. The bonds the university takes out have terms of up to 30 years. Think about that; CSU may be obligating students who won’t even be born for another 10 years to pay off the debt it accrues today.
And, as reported in Monday’s Collegian, when these projects have come in under budget, university officials have instead added extra amenities to these projects instead of passing the savings along to you. CSU’s philosophy is clear: when it’s time to build something, turn to students to pay the cost.
This is a stark change from the traditional model of public universities, where the state, believing that benefits come to all citizens from a strong system of higher education, funds the lion’s share of both operating and construction costs.
Combining these fees to pay for construction with the steady increase in tuition year after year, we find that students and their families, particularly those on the lower end of the income scale, are being squeezed to pay for what was once considered to be a shared responsibility of all citizens.
We can do that. Private universities survive quite well across the country without much assistance from state governments. Former state representative Don Marostica, who is now Gov. Bill Ritter’s economic development director, last year suggested that the state government pull all public support from colleges and universities.
If we’re going to go that route, though, let’s be honest about where we’re heading, and let’s drop the fiction of calling them “public” universities.
Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.