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Regents bite the bullet on tuition

The University of Colorado Board of Regents Tuesday voted 6-3 to approve 2013-14 tuition hikes of 8.7 percent at the Boulder campus and of 6 percent at the Denver and Colorado Springs campuses.

Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder
Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder
J. Zubrzycki

Those increases apply to undergraduate students who are Colorado residents. The board approved a variety of other increases for out-of-state students, graduate students and for students at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

The meeting was something of a replay of last year’s tuition debate, with regents caught between a desire to keep tuition affordable and the need to pay competitive salaries.

“The board and the administration go through this every year,” noted Regent Stephen Ludwig. “It’s never an easy discussion or any easy situation.”

Regent Joe Neguse opposed the increase. “I’m deeply concerned about affordability and access, especially on Boulder campus,” he said.

Regent Jim Geddes, who also opposed the hike, noted that Boulder tuition has increased 136 percent in the last 12 years. “The current proposal really does put the target on the back of the in-state student,” he said.

Both wondered if larger increases should be imposed on out-of-state and foreign students so residents could see a smaller jump. System officials said they fear CU already is pushing the limits of what the non-resident market will bear.

Todd Saliman, CU system vice president for finance, noted that Boulder’s resident tuition of $9,842 is below the average of $11,088 for comparable universities. But Boulder’s non-resident tuition is above average, he added.

The board unanimously approved the administration’s proposal for a 3.1 percent increase in the funds available for faculty and administration salaries, which will cost about $15 million.

“We are cutting muscle, and we are at real risk of losing the talent and expertise that make this university great,” said board chair Michael Carrigan, referring to competition for faculty with other universities.

President Bruce Benson sounded a similar note, arguing that the school must raise tuition to remain competitive.

Several regents expressed their frustration with the steady decline in state funding that has driven tuition increases and campus belt tightening. “We obviously need to do something as a state, and we need to have that conversation with the citizens,” Neguse said.

“This is not a year to go to the ballot” to seek voter approval of increased college funding, Benson said. “Next year probably is.” (The deadline has passed for filing of 2013 ballot measures, and K-12 supporters are planning to ask a $1 billion tax increase for schools this fall.)

Tuition-setting season, when college trustees set rates for the upcoming academic year, runs from now through June. The community colleges board meets Wednesday to consider a proposed 6 percent increase.

As state support for higher education has dwindled over the last decade, tuition has grown to cover about 75 percent of college budgets. Boards of trustees are allowed to raise tuition by up to 9 percent a year without state approval. Colleges can ask approval for increases larger than 9 percent from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education

While state support of higher education is expected to increase by about $30 million next year, college leaders agree that isn’t enough to avoid tuition hikes.

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