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State colleges take the 9 percent option

The 2010 legislature allowed state colleges and universities to raise tuition 9 percent for resident undergraduates, and that’s just what colleges have done.

There’s one variation to that pattern in the CU system, and the Colorado State University Board of Governors won’t vote until later this month on tuition rates for the Fort Collins and Pueblo campuses.

The increases for next year kick off what could be a series of annual 9 percent raises through 2015-16. The state is moving to a new but temporary system of giving college trustees more freedom to set tuition rates (see this story for details).

Next year’s tuition increases are expected to raise roughly an additional $125 million for college budgets.

Rates for Colorado resident undergraduates are rising 9 percent at Adams State College, the Colorado School of Mines, the Community College System, Fort Lewis College, Mesa State College, Metropolitan State College, the University of Northern Colorado and Western State College.

In the University of Colorado system, the hike will be 9 percent at the Boulder and Denver campuses and 7.2 percent in Colorado Springs.

College boards already have freedom to set tuition as they choose for non-resident undergrads and for graduate students. Non-resident undergrad increases range from none at Fort Lewis and 2 percent at CU’s Denver and Colorado Springs campuses to 9 percent at Metro.

Percentage increases in non-resident rates often are lower than for residents because the out-of-state base is so much larger to start with.

Some Colorado students will see increased financial aid to offset the higher tuition. The primary beneficiaries will be the lower-income students eligible for federal grants.

Celina Duran, financial aid administrator for the Department of Higher Education, did an estimate of available Pell funds for Education News Colorado. Here are her projections:

(Figures for 2008-09 are actual; those for 2009-10 and 2010-11 are estimates.)

  • Total Pell aid (includes private and propriety colleges) – $182.6 million in 2008-09, $206.5 million this year and $214.2 million next year.
  • Pell aid at state colleges: $133.1 million, $150.5 million and $156 million.

Individual maximum Pell grants also have been rising, from $4,731 in 2008-09 to $5,350 this year. The maximum will be $5,560 next year.

As an example of the impact, at Adams State officials say tuition and fees will increase $516 for the year and that top-level Pell recipients will see their grants rise about $200.

Over the last five years base resident undergraduate tuition at state colleges has grown between 24 and 45 percent (see DHE tuition statistics).

In an overlapping but slightly different time period (2004 to 2009) total aid at Colorado colleges grew 44.2 percent. For the 2008-09 school year (the latest for which full data is available from DHE), students at Colorado colleges received $1.7 billion in financial aid and loans (see most recent financial aid report).

That broke down to $327.8 million from the institutions, $253.3 million in federal aid, $108.5 million from the state, $62.2 million from other sources and $972.4 million in loans.

Overall aid from the state treasury grew 34 percent from 2004 to 2009 (although merit-based aid dropped 78 percent) while institutional aid grew 138.9 percent.

The state has struggled to maintain its financial aid contribution, and it’s held the line on need-based aid partly by slashing merit-based aid to nothing. State financial aid budgeted at about $106 million for 2010-11, an increase of less than 1 percent.

Institutions, as the 138.9 percent jump shows, have been working to increase their aid. In recent years the state has required part of tuition increases to be plowed back into aid. Colleges have also taken their own steps.

As an example, Adams State is raising one fee so that it can offer a new merit scholarship program next year.

EdNews background story on tuition trends in Colorado and the West