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Tuition hikes can help colleges walk through current financial crisis

Post Independent Photo/Jim NoelkerColorado State University president Larry Penley
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Colorado State University president Larry Penley says fundamental changes must occur in the way higher education is funded. And if these changes don’t happen, he says the quality of Colorado’s public colleges will decline dramatically.

Unfortunately for current and future students at CSU and other public colleges in the state, part of this change could include large tuition increases for in-state residents.

Penley shared his views on the state’s higher education budget crunch with reporters at City Hall on Friday.



“My greatest concern is that we’re going to drive higher education out of business completely,” he said.

Like many other state-funded services, CSU has seen its funding cut dramatically ” to the tune of 42 percent during the last four years. But the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, places strict limits on how much tuition at the school can rise.



“It’s not a pretty picture; it’s a perfect fiscal storm,” he said.

To avoid major cuts to CSU programs, Penley supports tuition hikes, which would have to be approved by CSU’s Board of Governors.

Carbondale resident Connie Calaway sits on the board, and Penley and his wife were houseguests this weekend of Calaway and her husband.

Although he doesn’t look forward to raising the school’s tuition, Penley sees it as a better alternative to a decline in the school’s quality.

He points out that among comparable schools such as Ohio State University, Michigan State University and Virginia Tech, CSU’s tuition is the lowest. Even if tuition were to rise by 40 percent ” which is the amount pegged in a proposal submitted by the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee on March 8 ” the school’s tuition rates would still rank somewhere in the middle compared to these schools.

A 40 percent hike would bump tuition from $2,908 to $4,071 per year for full-time students, an increase of $1,163 a year. The hikes could happen as soon as this fall.

Penley said if the tuition hike is approved, more student financial aid would be available.

But it’s not as simple as just approving a fee hike.

According to TABOR regulations, the school can only raise its tuition by 1.1 percent this year to offset inflation.

To enable the school to raise tuition, Penley has a plan.

“I’m proposing that we fundamentally rethink how we fund higher education in Colorado,” he said.

One idea is to take CSU’s state funding to below 10 percent of its entire budget, making it eligible to become an enterprise of the state. Such a classification would remove the college from TABOR rules. Right now, the college receives 10.9 percent of its funding from the state’s general fund.

If that’s done, the college would then need to be designated as an enterprise by Gov. Bill Owens.

Penley admitted that he doesn’t yet know what will happen, but he’s hoping the school will be able to get enough funding to retain its high academic reputation.

“If no change is made, tuition cannot go up by more than one and a half percent, yet (funding) will be cut by $20 million,” he said. “There’s only one thing you can forecast from that: that there will be a decline in quality.”

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

gmasse@postindependent.com


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