Feb 252010
Authors: Aaron Hedge

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter said Thursday that Colorado’s legislature will keep tuition hikes in check for the next fiscal year, despite looking at possible models for what leaders are calling “tuition flexibility,” which will allow state institutions more authority in increasing college prices.

In a discussion between news reporters and members of his recently commissioned strategic planning team in his office at the Capitol, Ritter said, “tuition flexibility is not tuition autonomy.”

Ritter’s statement rides alongside increasing concern among student and university leaders that the state, which faces devastating budget woes after a bevy of cuts were implemented over the last year, will continue to “defund” its colleges and universities.

The strategic planning committee, which consists of prominent members of the higher education community in Colorado, is researching a number of items it believes will help institutions over the financial hurdles that confront them.

The broad goal of the group is to establish a balance between maintaining affordability and quality of programs in higher education.

“They just have to go hand in glove, and I think they do that,” said Jim Lyons, a Colorado attorney who chairs the committee, during Thursday’s meeting.

Ritter said in the meeting that leaders plan to produce research results.

The results could include legislative proposals for the upcoming state
ballot that would establish a solid funding stream for higher education similar to the mandate that public funding for K-12 education increases every year.

Among the subjects the group is studying:

Measures that could increase the financial stability of colleges and universities

The way institutions govern themselves implementing policies that would maintain access and affordability in light of the economic downturn, and getting students ready for college through the K-12 system.

The committee plans to publish its findings later in the spring, but it does not guarantee a solid fix for the problem, the depth of which Ritter said no one anticipated.

“The task force is the mechanism for vetting the possibilities,” he said.

He added that the task of the group is solely to identify short-term solutions.

Colorado’s top governing board for its colleges and universities, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, has spent the last several months trying to find a way to limit tuition hikes. It asked the Joint Budget Committee, which drafts legislation every year that imposes revenue and spending limits on state programs, to cap tuition increases at 9 percent for in-state students last semester.

Nothing is set in stone until it approves that document, which is called the Long Bill, in June. Until then, CSU is planning its budget around the full 9 percent increase.

The governor expects the JBC to limit tuition increases, as it has typically done in the past.

“You’ll see a Long Bill this year that will look like the Long Bills of past years with the same restrictions,” Ritter said.

_Projects Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at news@collegian.com. _

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