Oct 052010
Authors: Ian Bezek

We at the Collegian have been reporting bad news about the state of Colorado higher education for so long that it’s easy to become apathetic.

Like a frog that doesn’t notice the water temperature rising to a boil, CSU students have not seemed to grasp the danger our university faces. But this week has brought such alarming news that we can’t remain ambivalent.

As the Collegian reported Tuesday, CSU students face up to a 20 percent tuition hike next year.

While tuition has been steadily rising for years, this proposal would cause an enormous and unprecedented hike for students. In recent years, state law prohibited universities from increasing tuition more than 9 percent per year.

But this prohibition was lifted last year as legislators realized that universities may have to hike tuition more quickly to make up for the massive shortfall in funding left by cuts of state funds and the potential loss of funding from federal stimulus programs.

It’s still unclear how students will be paying more, as CSU may raise tuition directly or it may try to close the “credit hour gap” in which students taking more than 10 credits at CSU pay much less for each additional credit than the first 10 –– unless they take more than 18 credits, at which point additional fees will be charged.

Regardless of what method CSU takes to raise prices, it’s clear that students will be paying a lot more for an education at CSU.

In a letter Tuesday to students and faculty, CSU President Tony Frank wrote, “Let’s be clear, we know that any change like this means an increase in cost to the people writing tuition checks, no matter what we call the plan. Whether the increase comes from closing the credit-hour gap or a straight tuition increase, it’s still more money out of pocket for our students.”

I’ve been critical of CSU spending in the past, for both its extravagant new buildings and its generous use of our student fees to fund our mediocre athletic department.
That said, we truly are facing a crisis now. There’s no more easy savings to be found in the budget. There’s nothing else left to cut that doesn’t deeply threaten the educational mission of the university.

Our professors haven’t gotten pay increases for the past three years, administration has already been streamlined and costs have been cut across the board.

CSU has been preparing for cuts to its funding over the past several years, realizing the hard times that the state faces. And so far, CSU has been able to survive the funding shortfall relatively well.

But Colorado public funding is likely to decline even farther in the upcoming year as higher education again is on the chopping block. Dr. Frank estimated that CSU may lose another $11 million in the upcoming legislative session.

The result is that students face an unprecedented hike in tuition in the upcoming year. And unless the economy miraculously recovers, large tuition hikes will probably continue in future years.

This threatens the very idea that CSU can remain a quality public university in its current state. If annual double-digit hikes become the norm, higher education will quickly become inaccessible for many Colorado families.

Perhaps CSU should look into privatizing. It seems clear that legislators and Colorado voters both place a low value on higher education compared with other state priorities. If legislators and voters don’t want to support Colorado’s public universities, which are already ranked 50th out of the 50 states in funding levels before upcoming cuts, they can make that choice.

It’d be a shame, though, if Colorado made that choice without deliberation. We need to have an open and blunt discussion of the role of higher education in Colorado. Do we want to privatize, or do we want to raise taxes or otherwise divert funds to save the public element of higher education?

I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do know that we are approaching a budgetary cliff that will force our university administrator’s to make irrevocable decisions about CSU’s future.

We, as students, and as Coloradans, can’t remain apathetic anymore. Either we discuss the hard choices we face now, or we’ll wake up one day and not recognize what’s become of Colorado’s higher education system.

I know I’d rather plan for the future than wander into it blindly.

Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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