Colorado

New era dawns for college tuition

The Colorado legislature this year gave up its direct power to control college and university tuition, but the rates students may pay in the next five years indirectly still will be up to lawmakers.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday unanimously approved tuition flexibility plans submitted by six higher education institutions and systems. Five of the plans contain “what-if” scenarios that suggest different levels of tuition increases depending on how much state support the 2011 legislature allocates to higher ed.

So the lower state support is, the more tuition may jump.

A law passed by the 2010 legislature allows college boards of trustees to raise tuition up to 9 percent a year for each of the next five years. (Traditionally, the legislature set tuition increase ceilings in the annual state budget bill.) The new law also allows colleges that want higher rates to ask permission from the CCHE. Those are the plans approved by the commission Thursday.

The commission votes don’t set future tuition rates, nor have any colleges and universities made official tuition decisions for 2011-12. The commission merely gave institutions authority to raise tuition more than 9 percent, and individual college boards won’t set actual 2011-12 tuition until next May or June.

“Nobody wants these tuition increases. What we have tried to do is set up a mechanism for colleges to respond if they have to,” said Rick Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education.

Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed $555 million in state support for higher ed in 2011-12, so that’s the base against which colleges have calculated their what-if tuition plans (see this story for background). Of course, that amount may change depending on state revenues, the proposals of the incoming Hickenlooper administration and, ultimately, the decisions of the legislature.

At a previous meeting, the commission approved flexibility plans for the Colorado State University System, Metro State College and Fort Lewis College (see this story for details). The Colorado School of Mines chose not to file an application.

The flexibility law requires colleges to have plans to maintain affordability for low- and middle-income students. While institutions have proposed a wide variety of affordability strategies, a common tactic is to earmark percentages of increased tuition revenue for financial aid and for student counseling and retention programs.

The plans are a sign of the accelerating shift towards state college pricing models that look more like those of private colleges – higher tuition, different tuition rates for different programs depending on cost and student demand and more individually tailored financial aid based on the needs of individual students.

Here are highlights of the flexibility requests approved Thursday:

University of Colorado System – The university won’t raise undergraduate resident tuition more than 9 percent if currently proposed levels of state aid for 2011-12 are approved. At a lower level of state funding, CU would raise tuition up to 9.5 percent. The system did not request permission for increases above 9 percent in budget years 2012-13 through 2015-16.

Community College System – The system won’t raise tuition more than 9 percent if state funding is approved at forecast levels, but it may raise 2011-12 tuition by 15.7 percent if state aid is 10 percent below what has been proposed. Also, depending on state support, the system wants the flexibility to raise tuition between 10.8 and 12.7 percent in 2012-13.

University of Northern Colorado – The university proposes average increases of 15 percent next year (ranging from 8 to 22 percent depending on program and credit hours taken), an average of 12 percent in 2014-15 and of 9 percent in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Adams State College – Tuition could increase 11 percent annually through the five-year period if 2011-12 state support comes in at the forecast levels. If state aid drops by about 10 percent, Adams proposes a 25 percent increase next year, 20 percent in 2012-13, 12 percent in 2013-14 and 9 percent in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Mesa State College – The college proposes keeping overall tuition increases below 9 percent if state funding is as expected. If state funding is more than 10 percent below projected levels, Mesa proposes to increase tuition .49 percent for each percentage that state funding drops. The college doesn’t expect increases of more than 9 percent for 2012-13 through 2015-16.

Western State College – The college is considering raising tuition by 11.6 percent a year during the five-year period if state funding is stable and by 16 percent a year if state funding drops by 10 percent or more.

The new flexibility system applies only to tuition for Colorado residents who are undergraduates. College trustees can set rates as they choose for out-of-state students and for graduate programs.

(See the bottom of this DHE page for links to the full financial plans for each college and system. Go here to read a new DHE detailed new report on tuition rates and fees in the current school year, and see a report on financial aid for Colorado students in 2009-10 here. Also see this table showing the change in tuition and fees from 2009-10 to 2010-11.)

Master plan, or master planning?

Now that a citizens’ committee has taken a year to develop a higher education strategic plan, the commission is going to take another year to decide how to implement it.

The commission Thursday formally adopted the strategic plan recently finished by a citizen committee as part of the CCHE’s new master plan for higher education. DHE staff also proposed that the commission develop more detailed plans to implement the broader goals suggest in the document, titled “The Degree Dividend.”

That sparked discussion among commission members about whether they were adopting a “master plan” or a system of “master planning.” Eventually they agreed to give themselves a Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for the additional work.

At any rate, the tuition flexibility law also requires CCHE to submit a plan to the legislature before the 2011 session starts, so “The Degree Dividend” was approved as that document and will be sent along to the Capitol.

Another delay for Westwood

For the second time this fall, the commission delayed a decision on whether to place for-profit Westwood College on “probationary accreditation.” The college has been placed on probation by its accrediting agency, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges. The CCHE in October discussed whether to put Westwood on Colorado probation to align with the accrediting body’s action.

No decision was made then because the accrediting commission was to reconsider the Westwood case in November. Staff members told CCHE Thursday that the accrediting commission apparently has made a decision but won’t be announcing it until next week.

So, CCHE again decided to wait to act until after the national body’s decision is known. (See previous story about Westwood and CCHE.)

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.