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Tuition plan OK’d at CSU, Metro, Ft. Lewis

Future tuition rates for students at four Colorado college campuses are now fully in the hands of those institutions.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday approved tuition and financial flexibility plans submitted by the Colorado State University System, Metropolitan State College and Fort Lewis College.

The plans are the first approved under a new law that allows colleges to raise resident undergraduate tuition up to 9 percent a year for each of the next five years. Institutions that want to raise tuition beyond that must seek CCHE approval, and they also have to demonstrate that affordability and access will be protected for middle- and lower-income students. Tuition ceilings used to be set by the legislature.

The three institutions received permission to raise tuition above the 9 percent level – but that doesn’t mean they actually will raise tuition by specific amounts. College boards typically set tuition in May or June, and changing financial conditions between now and then will determine what bills students actually will have to pay in the 2011-12 school year.

Most of the flexibility plans submitted by colleges around the state proposed varying tuition schemes based on different levels of state support, suggesting higher tuition increases if state revenue drops.

Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposed 2011-12 budget, released earlier this week, includes a “less bad” funding level for higher ed – $555 million in state support. If that number holds through legislative budget deliberations next spring, tuition hikes may be less than they would be otherwise. Tuition now supplies about $1.6 billion to college revenues.

Here are highlights of the three approved plans:

CSU – The proposal would generate increased tuition revenue by requiring Fort Collins students to take more credits to qualify as full time and by eliminating a credit hour discount at Pueblo. The cost per credit hour would stay the same, but some students could see increases of 20 percent at Fort Collins and nearly as much at Pueblo by taking more classes. Earlier this year CSU announced a financial aid program that cushions many lower-income students against tuition hikes. (See CSU plan.)
Metro – The college says it has two options for 2011-12. The first is raising tuition 21 percent but reducing some fees by rolling them into tuition bills. That would yield a combined tuition and fee increase of 16.5 percent. If Metro trustees decide not to change the fee structure, the proposed tuition increase alone would be 12.5 percent. (See Metro plan.)

Fort Lewis – The Durango college also paints two tuition possibilities. Under the first, the definition of full time would be raised from 10 credit hours to 12, and tuition would be raised 9 percent a year for five years. The second plan, assuming reduced state support, would increase tuition 20 percent in each of the next two years. (See Fort Lewis plan.)

The CSU and Metro plans were approved for the full five years; the Fort Lewis proposal for two.

Commission member Greg Stevinson, who headed a subcommittee that reviewed the flexibility plans, said, “These three just rose to the top. They were very well done.”

Stevinson’s group is still reviewing and negotiating proposals from the University of Colorado and community college systems, the University of Northern Colorado and from Adams, Mesa and Western State colleges. Mesa’s original application was not accepted but has been revised. The Colorado School of Mines, where the CCHE met Thursday, chose not to apply for flexibility and will stay within the 9 percent ceiling.

Stevinson told the commission, “I’m not sure everyone is going to get two-year approval.” Asked later what colleges he meant, Stevinson declined to say and added he’s reasonably confident issues can be resolved.

(See this previous Education News Colorado story for more details on flexibility plans.)

The new law and the flexibility plans cover only tuition for undergraduate Colorado residents. Colleges and universities are free to set tuition as they like for out-of-state and all graduate students.

The new law also doesn’t deal with student fees, which have risen rapidly in recent years and used for a wide variety of purposes, including building construction. A new Department of Higher Education panel is studying that issue and will report to the CCHE next spring.

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