What’s behind increasing college tuition in Colorado? – The Denver Post

Colorado State University’s tuition is going up 3% next year, mirroring the University of Colorado’s recent hike, and higher education officials say the increase is driven in part by a mandated pay raise for state employees.

Tuition for the upcoming academic year for an undergraduate Colorado resident living on campus at CSU Fort Collins totals more than $12,430 and is expected to increase about $280 the following year. Beginning in 2022, CU Boulder’s annual tuition for in-state undergraduates will increase by $312, totaling $11,040.

With the addition of fees, on-campus housing, books and supplies, both universities estimate one year of college for an undergraduate, in-state student will amount to nearly $30,000. One year of college as an out-of-state student at CSU is estimated at nearly $50,000 and more than $55,000 at CU Boulder.

Colorado is near the bottom when it comes to state support for funding higher education. Colorado students and their families are shouldering more of the cost of their college degrees than in most states, according to data from the State Higher Education Finance report. In 1980, the Colorado student share was 37% compared to 21% of U.S. students. In 2020, Colorado college students shouldered 67% of the cost compared to 44% of U.S. students.

Now, students are being asked to take on the cost of pay increases for the people who keep campuses running whether it’s cleaning buildings, running the financial aid office or keeping the lights on. Higher education officials also said the ongoing fallout from the pandemic is contributing to rising tuition.

Still, neither university has raised tuition in several years. The tuition increase will be the first since fall 2018 for CSU’s last increase was in 2018, and CU will have kept tuition flat for four straight years.

“In the meantime, the cost of everything went up,” said Angie Paccione, Colorado Department of Higher Education executive director.

In 2019, Governor Jared Polis said tuition costs in Colorado had “spiraled out of control.” As the cost of a higher education continues to inch up, what’s driving the hike and what does it mean for the students seeking a degree?

“A public college should be a high quality, affordable option for any student,” said Michele Streeter, associate director of policy and advocacy at national non-profit The Institute for College Access & Success. “If we continue to make that unaffordable, that means students aren’t going to enroll or they’re going to take on more debt…We’re already asking the lowest income students to take on more debt. More individuals and communities are going to suffer if this continues.”

According to the College Board, tuition at public two-year institutions in Colorado, adjusted for inflation, rose by 30% from 2011 to 2021, now costing $4,820 per year on average. At public four-year institutions during the same time frame, tuition, adjusted for inflation, climbed 36% to an average of $11,420 per year.

One factor behind tuition increases this year is a state-mandated 3% salary increase for state-classified employees, Paccione said. Examples of state-classified employees on a college campus include some hourly workers, dining hall employees, dorm workers and financial aid staffers.

Forty-three percent of all state-classified employees work in Colorado higher education institutions, Paccione said. The pay increase, approved earlier this year by the state legislature, goes into effect July 1.

“If the state is going to say that we’re going to have a 3% increase in employee salary, we don’t provide those dollars to the institutions of higher education to distribute that, so they are saddled with it,” Paccione said. “That puts a strain on the budget especially in this past year when our institutions saw a decrease in enrollment.”

While most university faculty are not included in the mandated pay raise, Paccione said many universities are planning a 3% salary increase across the board to avoid crushing morale.

“The legislature and the governor have been very generous to higher ed this year, especially with the state and federal stimulus funds,” Paccione said. “There will be some opportunities for students to not be impacted as much because we put a lot of money into state financial aid and a lot of new programs coming for students, so we’re trying to keep this increase as far away from students as possible, but there’s no other way to do it.”

Metropolitan State University of Denver, which touts being the most affordable four-year higher education institution on the Front Range, is not raising tuition this upcoming academic year.

A Colorado resident taking 12 credits at MSU Denver in 2021-22 will be charged around $5,200 while an out-of-state student will pay around $11,000.

The commuter institution that serves a large population of first-generation college students and people of color will wait until their fall enrollment numbers come in before deciding if they will extend the 3% salary increase to all employees, said George Middlemist, MSU Denver’s chief financial officer.

“Unfortunately, higher education tends to be the plug for the state budget,” said Middlemist, who noted that the state invested more in MSU Denver this year than ever before. “We rely so much on state support because we don’t have auxiliary revenues. We don’t have residential housing, concession stands — we’re a commuter campus. All those things really pressure us.”

Streeter’s national organization is advocating for a proposal creating a partnership between the state and federal government. When an economic downturn occurs, Streeter said, and the state is having a budget crunch, the federal government would step in to automatically shore up state funding under the Institute’s proposal.

“The federal government has federal aid, students loans, but there’s no coordinated funding partnership between all of those entities running the system in tandem,” Streeter said. “You want to have an established partnership where there is that coordination and states buy into it and agree to parameters to receive federal funding while maintaining state flexibility. The holistic cost of attending school and being able to stay in school and have the resources you need is all increasingly unaffordable, and there’s an ever-growing gap. We need to leverage the federal government’s ability to manage this.”

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