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CU regents OK fee hikes

The University of Colorado Board of Regents voted 8-1 Thursday to increase a range of student fees at all four CU campuses. Only Regent Tom Lucero voted against the hikes.

While Lucero didn’t explain his vote, he seemed to share some concerns with board Chairman Steve Bosley about how some student fees are spent. Bosley peppered student leaders with questions, for instance, about the $155,000 price tag to bring Jordan’s Queen Noor and politicos Karl Rove and Howard Dean to the Boulder campus this semester.

Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder
Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder

Some 1,500 people attended the recent Noor talk, which was free to students but cost a student-fee funded organization $70 per student attendee.

“I think it’s great…but at what point (do you ask), Can our students afford that?” Bosley said. “At what point do you say, We need to suspend that in really tough economic times.”

Intercampus Student Forum Chair Dustin Farivar vigorously defended the speakers, who are funded through a $2.14 fee paid by students for the Distinguished Speaker series.

“The campus was buzzing before and after about how wonderful the event was,” Farivar said.

Farivar said the distinguished speaker fee is the only funding source available to bring high-profile speakers to campus. He said if there’s a fee students complain about more, it’s the $28 per semester athletic fee.

Even though Farivar is graduating in May, he assured the regents his peers would come up with a protocol that would allow the regents to provide more input on speakers coming to campus. Farivar acknowledged that after Steve Forbes came to CU to speak, he learned CU President Bruce Benson is friends with him and potentially could have pulled some strings to get a better price on the sought-after publishing magnate. Farivar said student leaders are also considering charging community members more for such events.

“We will make sure we create a process that involves you earlier, and provides our students with high quality education,” Farivar said. “We shouldn’t sacrifice a great education for a good deal.”

Last fall, university administrators reviewed all fees students pay, including mandatory ones, instructional fees, new course fees, and increases in course-specific fees. For 2010-2011, the regents approved nine new course fees, four course fee increases, one course fee decrease and the elimination of two course fees. The regents approved three new program fees, four program fee increases, one program fee decrease and scrapped one fee. Only one technology fee increase was approved. See fee details in the CU system report found here.

Regents supported several non-appropriated fee changes as well. These included housing and dining increases ranging from 2.7 percent to 5 percent and activity fee increases from 1.2 percent to 9.4 percent. The RTD Eco Pass student fee on the Boulder campus is one of the few fees actually decreasing due to waning participation in the Eco Pass program.

The Boulder campus’s proposed UCSU student activity fee – which includes the speaker series – for fiscal 2010-2011 is $353.61, an increase per student of $4.29.

For the flagship campus, regents voted in favor of a 4 percent cost increase for residence hall room and board, to $5,396 per semester. Family housing prices will climb 3 percent. Here are samples of fee increases at two campuses:

CU-Boulder per semester fees for 2010-2011

  • UCSU student activity fee – up 1.2 percent to $349.32
  • RTD student bus pass – down 1.4 percent to $71
  • Residence hall standard room and board – up 4 percent to $5,396

CU-Denver per semester fees for 2010-2011

  • Student activity fee – up 9.4 percent to $16.79
  • Auraria RTD college pass – up 32.6 percent to $61
  • Student newspaper – up 5 percent to $4.20
  • Auraria student rec center fee – up 10 percent to $5.50

Budget cut recap

The regents also heard the grim details surrounding $22 million in cuts in fiscal 2010-2011, part of $51 million cut over the past two years at all four campuses. The cuts translate into the loss of 338 jobs.

Regent James Geddes questioned whether any of the cuts would have a have a “concrete, measurable” impact on the quality of education. CU-Boulder Budget Director Ric Porreca was quick to respond.

“Absolutely, I don’t think you can reduce an operating budget by $22 million and not have some impacts.”

The board will not vote on the budget measures until June.

Porreca said all campuses have done their best to keep the cuts out of classrooms, but students will undoubtedly feel the squeeze through larger class sizes, less accessible faculty members and fewer teaching assistants. He said the equivalent of 60 full-time positions would be eliminated on the Boulder campus as of July 1. Half of the jobs were vacant, but some pink slips will be delivered in coming weeks, he said.

Regent Stephen Ludwig asked whether work-study dollars are adequate for students who need to earn money for college. The Colorado Springs campus reported it plans to add more work-study positions to plug budget holes because students can be less expensive to employ. The campus employs between 1,400 and 1,500 work-study students at any given time.

Porreca also talked about how CU-Boulder is moving toward a more electronic admissions system, which reduces the need for some employees. The campus is also waiting four years before replacing PCs as opposed to three. The other campus’s budget directors described similar cost-cutting measures.

The regents also discussed how the cuts were made. They were not across-the-board. Rather, colleges and schools with greater public subsidies faced larger cuts in general. That raised some concern for Regent Joe Neguse.

“My hope is, in the future…if we’re going to do that, that we make sure those schools can’t just fall back on the tuition,” Neguse said. “Some schools we have a commitment to and we’re going to subsidize them. Or, we decide we’re not going to subsidize as much and hold them accountable. That’s a choice the board’s going to be faced with in coming months.”

Lucero also was the only no vote on 2010-11 tuition increases approved by the regents last month.

CU system budget cuts over the past two fiscal years

  • Boulder: $22.3 million; 135.5 positions
  • Colorado Springs: $4.9 million; 14.4 positions
  • Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus: $23.9 million; 116.4 positions
  • Central administration: $8.4 million; 71.7 positions (reductions to central administration offset cuts to campuses, so are not reflected in the $51 million total)

Julie Poppen can be reached at jpoppen@ednewscolorado.org.

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