A proposed 21 percent resident tuition increase from CSU's governing board faced early opposition after the Colorado Commission on Higher Education responded with a recommendation of only a 5.4 percent tuition increase.
CCHE's recommendation, based on a "mandatory cost" model that incorporates unavoidable budgetary increases such as required faculty raises and increased utility costs, resulted in a figure that falls short of the Board of Governors of the CSU System's request. But the number is still larger than it might have been had the CCHE not changed its cost-prediction model this year, said Jason Hopfer, CCHE's director of government relations. Hopfer said the CCHE is also preemptively treating CSU as an enterprise-status institution (see story page 3).
In past years, he said, the CCHE has only recommended budget increases to keep pace with the rate of inflation, resulting in last year's tuition increase of only 1.1 percent. This year's CCHE-recommended number is a significant change.
"We made a recommendation that was 50 times the rate of inflation. That's a pretty big deal for us," Hopfer said.
The university's proposal is even bigger. This is because of budget cuts in recent years that have left CSU with decreasing general fund and tuition revenue, said Ed Bowditch, vice chancellor for administrative affairs at CSU.
"We have a number of mandated costs we have to meet," Bowditch said. "Our preference is that the state provides more funding for higher education, (but) the budgetary realties suggest that the state funding will not increase."
Bowditch also said CSU is the only state-funded university in Colorado that has had decreased general funds and tuition revenues since 2002.
"We are the only ones who have gone down," he said.
The University of Colorado-Boulder has increased general fund and tuition revenues by more than 12 percent since 2002, partially as a result of gaining enterprise status in August.
The CCHE's comparatively large recommendation from the usual inflation-based increase proposal is the result of CSU's anticipated enterprise status for the coming year, Hopfer said, which would allow the university to raise tuition by more than the rate of inflation.
"I would probably bet on CSU being in the enterprise (group)," Hopfer said.
In the meantime, he said, the CCHE's recommendation is not a concrete figure. The commission and the state legislature are willing to consider a higher tuition increase if the university provides detailed and appropriate justification for an increase above 5.4 percent, he said.
"(University representatives) should come to the legislature, come to CCHE and explain why (they) want that money," Hopfer said. "If it's to pay more faculty, how much is that? If it's to build more buildings, how much is that? We're looking for a breakout like that." The board's initial proposal was not as detailed as the commission would like.
"Bring us a(n) (explanation) that says, 'Why do we need more money?'" Hopfer said. "We've had institutions say, 'We need 10 percent for other needs.' What other needs? They might be great needs – we don't know."
If CSU can convince the CCHE that the requested increase is at least partially necessary, the commission might present a larger tuition increase proposal to the state legislature's Joint Budget Committee. This proposal would then have to be approved by the legislature and the governor, and it would then be returned to CSU's board of governors for a final decision.
Bowditch said the university would be willing to address the budget committee with a more specific explanation of the university's funding needs, but he said the chance might not arise. CSU presented to the budget committee once this year, but it was a general presentation and did not discuss tuition increases in-depth.
"You get one 20-minute slot per year to address the Joint Budget Committee," he said. "If the JBC were to call us and invite us back, we would go, (but) it's unlikely we would have that chance."
CCHE is not opposed to hearing CSU's reasoning for the higher tuition increase.
"If (the needs) are valid, then the way to raise that money would be tuition," Hopfer said. "I think there's an ability to give more than what we have suggested. The million-dollar question is, 'How much more?'"
Even if the board can convince the CCHE to recommend a higher percentage increase, the state legislature and the governor must be persuaded it is necessary.
"Even if we were to say we love the thing, the legislature would have to be convinced," Hopfer said.
He also said that Colorado Gov. Bill Owens is concerned about the size of the increase – something the commission had to consider since the CCHE acts on his recommendations.
"We have to take that clue, too," Hopfer said, referring to the governor's concern over the CSU proposal. "We work for him."
The board of governors has not announced a contingency plan if the final increase rate approved is significantly less than its request.
"I think that's really too early to say. We're seven months away from that," said board Chair Don Hamstra.