CCHE wrestles with slicing higher ed pie

Colorado colleges and universities are taking a wait-and-see attitude about their newly won ability to seek authority for raising tuition more than 9 percent a year.

Why? College leaders say they won’t know how much they may need to hike tuition until they get a better idea about how much state support will be available in 2011-12 and how that money will be split among institutions.

How to divide the money is the focus of ongoing work by the Department of Higher Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Whatever allocation system they come up with is bound to be contentious and to make some – or perhaps all – institutions unhappy.

Higher ed leaders are being forced to confront the issue because of a complicated and interlocking set of events and circumstances, including:

• The continuing state revenue crisis, which was highlighted in June revenue forecasts that warned the state may have to cut up to $1 billion from the 2011-12 state budget (see story). There’s no question that higher ed will receive less direct state support than the $620.8 million in the current budget, much of which is the last installment of federal stimulus funds.

• The hard truth that state colleges and universities have differing abilities to raise revenues from tuition and grants. It’s seen as easier for CU’s Boulder campus, CSU-Fort Collins and the Colorado School of Mines to raise tuition and still maintain enrollment than it is for some of the state’s four-year colleges, which have smaller pools of potential applicants and more lower-income students.

• A new state law (Senate Bill 10-003) that gives colleges greater freedom in managing their budgets and the right to ask for tuition increases higher than the 9 percent hikes that now are allowed annually through 2015-16. Another key piece of that law gives the CCHE more clout than it’s had in recent years, including review over those tuition authority requests.

The big picture

The state support being debated by CCHE and college leaders is only part of state higher education funding.

The current, 2010-11 budget for state colleges and universities totals about $2 billion, funded by about $900 million in resident tuition, $500 million in non-resident tuition and about $600 million in state dollars and federal ARRA funds. This is the last budget year those federal funds will be available.

At its July 8 meeting the commission adopted a deadline schedule and an application form for institutions that want tuition flexibility. Applications will be accepted between Aug. 2 and Oct. 1, review and negotiations with institutions is be finished by Oct. 29, CCHE decisions will be made by Nov. 4 and recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee will be made by Dec. 10. (See the template for college financial accountability plans.)

The deadline schedule was a compromise between CCHE and the institutions, but some college leaders are still uncomfortable with it. And, it doesn’t look like colleges will be rushing to file applications in early August.

Education News Colorado last week surveyed all 10 state colleges and systems. No institution is definitely planning to apply, and only Adams State College has no plans to apply. Representatives of the Colorado and Colorado State university systems, the community colleges, the School of Mines and the University of Northern Colorado plus Metro, Fort Lewis, Mesa and Western State colleges said they were still studying the issue or haven’t yet taken it up.

Metro State President Steve Jordan discussed the unknowns that colleges face. “We are doing some modeling that makes the presumption that general fund [state support] will be cut.” So, Metro will prepare an initial document that suggests different levels of tuition for different amounts of state cuts. “We intend to put in some markers … and then we will revise those once we know the reality” of state funding, Jordan said.

Metro State President Steve Jordan

Other colleges also are expected to prepare similar “what if” proposals.

Mesa President Tim Foster said, “We will probably hedge and ask for some nominal increase above 9 percent.  In that way we can keep an eye on what the legislature does with respect to higher education budgets and react accordingly with a possible amendment.”

Brad Baca, Western State vice president for finance and administration, said, “Most likely, the plan and the amount of tuition flexibility proposed will be indexed against varying scenarios of state support.”

The commission is scheduled to return to the allocation issue at its next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 5 at Front Range Community College in Westminster.

At a June 17 meeting, commissioners discussed guiding principles for proposed allocation of state funds. The key elements of that document were based on whether state support in 2011-12 is below or above $500 million.

If state funds are less than $500 million, DHE staff propose using a “total revenue” model that would “allow institutions better positioned to utilize tuition flexibility to do so while protecting core functions at community colleges and institutions less able to leverage tuition flexibility.”

If state funding is above $500 million, DHE staff propose using a blended model for allocating funds to individual colleges, taking into consideration prior year funding, ability to raise tuition and enrollment changes. (Read document.)

At a lightly attended meeting on July 8, DHE Chief Financial Officer Mark Cavanaugh presented the commission with more detailed scenarios.

In a worst-case scenario of $450 million in state support for 2011-12, a proportional cut would mean each school would lose 30.2 percent of the state and stimulus funding it’s receiving this year.

The cuts would vary if more state money is channeled to institutions with less ability to raise tuition. Under that model, cuts would range from about 41 percent for the School of Mines and the CU system to a low of 17.2 percent at Western State College. In theory, institutions that received less state support would raise tuition to make up the difference.

Cavanaugh also presented options for $550 million, which still is less than this year’s budget for higher ed. “Fiscal year 11-12 is going to be rough year,” Cavanaugh told the commission. “It’s a very difficult thing to know what that number [state support] is going to be.” (See the full document here. EdNews summary is below, and the story continues after the chart.)

Allocation of state support among colleges is an issue fraught with contention, because every institution and system zealously protects its own financial interests and is quick to see harm in proposals that shift support among campuses.

Leaders of community colleges and Metro, for instance, point out that they draw historically under-served groups of students and have had the largest enrollment growth. They believe funding allocations in recent budgets haven’t accounted for that growth.

Jordan told EdNews, “It seems to make more sense” to use the tuition-adjustment model and funnel more state support to institutions like his that “don’t have the ability to do that cost shift” – raising tuition and then using revenue from wealthier students to subsidize financial aid for poorer students.

Research institutions, particularly the CU system, argue that their ability to raise tuition much more is limited, that they’re key drivers of the state’s economy and need support for high-cost professional programs such as those on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
CU President Bruce Benson

CU President Bruce Benson said in an interview that proposed allocation formulas often slight the needs of high-cost programs like Anschutz and the CSE veterinary medicine program. “People keep disregarding the major assets of this state … in their formulas.”

Smaller outstate institutions like Adams State, Western State, Mesa State and Fort Lewis colleges point to the services they provide to their regions and their inability to significantly raise tuition, given the kinds and numbers of applicants they attract.

Community college leader also are reluctant to raise tuition because of their open-access mission and the large numbers of low-income students they serve.

Taking the long view
While CCHE is wrestling with immediate budget issues, a collection of other panels (which include several commission members) is working on a long-term strategic plan for higher ed, including how to pay for it.

The Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee also is discussing the idea of concentrating scarce state dollars at some colleges while allowing otherss to rely more on tuition.

The steering committee meets Aug. 3 to begin narrowing down possible recommendations.

“They [CCHE] ought to look at tuition-raising ability,” Benson said, but he suggested that more institutions than CU, CSU and Mines could afford to raise tuition rates, which he said in some cases lag behind costs at similar institutions in other states. “There is a capacity to raise tuition.”

The window for making budget recommendations is a relatively narrow one. The executive branch must make its 2011-12 budget recommendations to the JBC by Nov. 1, and the panel begins hearings on the 2011-12 budget shortly after that.

In the meantime, there’s going to be lots of rhetorical jostling in the higher ed community.

“Yes,” Benson said with a chuckle, “we’re going to have some serious discussions.”

While they’re debating allocations, institutions and CCHE also face an even grimmer financial assignment. SB 10-003 requires them to prepare plans for what they’d do if state support is cut by 50 percent in 2011-12. Those reports, to be coordinated by CCHE, are due Nov. 10.

Do your homework

Archive of higher education stories

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.