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Metro students get double-digit hike

The trustees of Metropolitan State College Wednesday approved 2011-12 tuition and fees that are 18.1 percent higher than this year’s charges.

Tuition for full-time resident undergraduates will increase 22.6 percent to $3,808.80 a year. Fees will increase 4 percent, to $1,024.92. (Some charges previously classified as fees are being reclassified as tuition.)

The combined hike will be 18.1 percent, for a 2011-12 total of $4,833.72 for a student who is taking 15 to 18 credit hours per semester.

It was a sobering vote for leaders of an institution that long has focused on being accessible to students who might not otherwise be able to attend a four-year college.

“It scares the hell out of me,” said trustee Maria Garcia Berry, adding, “I don’t think we have a choice.” The other trustees agreed, and the vote was unanimous.

“The students are going to feel it,” said Kathryn Cammack, the non-voting student member of the board.

Metro President Stephen Jordan said, “This was a particularly difficult budget to put together.” But, he added, “We would have had serious concerns” about the college’s ability to provide “even minimal” student services without the increase.

The college estimates that it can cover tuition increases with financial aid for roughly half its students, those of lower income levels. Part of the additional tuition revenue will be used to increase the financial aid budget.

Jordan also noted that the college is encouraging students who can to take class loads of more than 15 credits hours per semester. Students can take up to 18 credit hours for the same price as 15.

And, despite the increase, Metro remains economical compared to other state four-year schools. The state system’s largest undergraduate campus, the University of Colorado at Boulder, will charge resident undergrads $9,152 in tuition and fees next year, compared to Metro’s $4,833. Metro has the second largest enrollment of undergrads. (See story on CU’s increase.)

Metro and all state colleges and universities have been squeezed by continuing cuts in state support as the legislature has struggled with revenue declines. System-wide, state funds provide only about a quarter of higher education revenues, with tuition and fees providing most of the rest.

Metro has been particularly hit by the state budget situation. Although it’s been one of the fastest-growing state colleges, it hasn’t been fully compensated for that growth by the college funding formulas used over the last few years.

The combination of state cuts and growing enrollment “forces us to this decision point today,” Jordan said. He noted that Metro has the lowest per-student funding of 21 comparable institutions nationwide.

Metro will receive $36.9 million in state funds next year, down $7.1 million from this year’s $44 million in state funds and federal stimulus money. By contrast, the college expects to generate $83.6 million in tuition revenue next year. Metro’s total 2011-12 budget will be $217.2 million, including revenue from the federal government (primarily financial aid), other restricted grants and revenue from auxiliary enterprises such as parking.

Reflecting on that funding split, Jordan told the board, “We’re closer to being a privatized institution than any in the state.”

The additional Metro tuition revenue will be split primarily between basic college operating costs and campus maintenance. (As part of its budget cutting, the 2011 legislature didn’t provide funds for the kinds of basic upkeep known as controlled maintenance.)

The Metro increases were expected. A 2010 law allows college trustees to increase resident undergraduate tuition up to 9 percent a year on their own and to impose larger increases with the approval of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The increases approved Wednesday are about the same as those in the Metro plan filed with and approved by the CCHE last autumn. (See this story for other colleges’ future tuition plans.)

The commission gave tuition flexibility to Metro for five years. The college plan estimates a 13 percent resident undergraduate increase for 2012-13 and 9 percent for each of the three following school years. The tuition flexibility law expires after the 2015-16 school year.

Robert Cohen

Robert Cohen

Kayleigh Skinner

But, Jordan noted those future increases are based on the assumption that state aid won’t be cut further. That’s not a safe bet, and Jordan said further said cuts could mean not only still-higher tuition but also program cuts and perhaps an enrollment cap.

There’s “a real potential for additional higher education budget cuts” in 2012-13, Jordan said. “There is a limit to how many rabbits we can pull out the hat in the future.”

At the close of the meeting, trustee chair Robert Cohen said, “All of us know what this means to our students, and none of us celebrate it.” He added, “We need to be advocates and voices” for changing the way public higher education is supported. “We’re not funding it at appropriate levels.”

The trustees also approved a 9 percent tuition increase for non-resident undergraduates, who number about 600. Non-resident tuition is about four times that of Colorado students.