Tuition jack-up possible

Jan 302011
Authors: Jim Sojourner

Faced with waning state funding for higher education, university officials said Friday that CSU has no real choice but to crank up its tuition knob next year –– a move that could translate into tuition rates almost 30 percent higher for some students.

At CSU’s Budget Retreat on Thursday and Friday, President Tony Frank said the university has to make a choice between turning up the “cuts knob” and “tuition knob” in order to balance its budget.

“We’re getting back into that game my kids play: ‘would you rather,’” Frank said. “We have to pick the less horrible of two things.”

After years of reinvesting funds for low-priority areas into high-priority areas and eliminating unnecessary programs, Frank said he could find few places to cut out of non-academic programs, no places where CSU is bleeding money and no places where vertical, or full program, cuts could be made without damaging the university.

“I’m unable to find places in CSU where I can say with a straight face, ‘If we do (cut) this the citizens of Colorado and CSU will be better off or will not be harmed,’” Frank said.

Instead, he said, if the university is to fulfill its mission as a land-grant university and to continue to provide a high-quality education, it has to look at making “horizontal” cuts across departments and has to put more of the financial burden on students.

CSU’s tuition rates are 44 percent below the national average, Frank said, so increasing tuition is feasible and buys the university time as long as CSU maintains the balance between bringing in needed revenue and keeping education affordable without turning students away.

“I come out of this having reached the conclusion that turning that tuition knob, and turning it substantially, is the best thing for CSU,” Frank said.

Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda said the university is looking at two ways to turn up that tuition knob for fiscal year 2012.

First, CSU is hoping to implement a differential tuition system that would give its colleges flexibility in determining higher tuition rates for certain classes and degree programs.

Some classes within the business, engineering and computer science programs already have differential tuition rates, where students have to pay a little extra per credit hour. Miranda said the idea is still in the planning stages, but CSU is looking to extend that system university-wide.

To decide if a course should have a higher-than-normal cost, university officials will determine if it has a high cost of delivery, if it is in high demand and if there’s a perception that it has a particularly high value to students. Courses that fit those three criteria could be eligible for differential tuition.

Under the current plan, differential tuition rates would only go into effect for students who have more than 60 credits and would replace the current system where CSU charges extra for upper-division classes and high cost classes. Differential tuition would also be phased in over two or three years.

The second element of the planned tuition increase, Miranda said, is the implementation of a two-credit-hour closure.

Currently, resident undergraduates pay for up to 10 credit hours, and the 11th credit hour and any additional hours are free –– a number Miranda said is on the low end of the scale, as many universities charge for more credit hours or even every credit hour no matter the number.

In order to increase revenue, Miranda said CSU is planning to start charging students for up to 12 credits instead of the current 10. He said CSU is not considering more than a two-credit-hour closure.

Combined, differential tuition and the two-credit closure could raise tuition between 25 and 30 percent for some older students in high-end degree programs, he said.

Miranda stressed that the tuition increase plans are preliminary and still need the approval of the CSU System Board of Governors, as budget projections are finalized later in the spring. The plans have already received tentative approval from the Colorado Commission of Higher Education –– the state body that regulates university tuition increases –– but other options, he said, could be considered.

Preparing for the worst-case
Before any final decision can be made the state legislature must draft and approve its final budget, including its funding allocation for higher education, leaving the future of CSU’s state funding uncertain.

This year the state allocated $555 million to higher education, about $130 million of which was backfilled federal stimulus money that will have dried up by next year. Miranda said CSU hopes the state will maintain that same level of funding, but said funding could decrease to $500 million or even lower.

“We would be happy if the state can maintain its $555 million,” he said.

After changes in revenues and expenditures including the planned tuition increases in the education and general budget for FY 2012, for the optimistic scenario where state funding stays at $555 million, Miranda said CSU would have a hole of about $9 million to fill with a 5-percent budget reduction of about $11.5 million.

In the pessimistic scenario where state funding drops to $500 million, CSU will have about $20 million to make up for by cutting its budget by 10 percent or about $23 million.

To prepare for both scenarios, during the budget retreat the presidents of each college presented what both a 5 percent and a 10 percent cut would look like for their colleges.

Presidents across disciplines stressed that budget cuts would mean losing degree programs, decreasing the course sections offered and reducing the number of faculty and staff positions.

Sally Sutton, representing the Committee for Strategic and Financial Planning, also said retaining staff and faculty could become increasingly difficult as salaries stagnate and morale issues arise.

_Vashti Batjargal, Chris Boan, Andrew Carrera, Rachel Childs, Jordyn Dahl, Courtney Riley, Alison Sylte and Erin Udell contributed to this report.

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner can be reached at

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