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Colo. College Tuition Flex Plans Hit Inbox

By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO

State colleges and universities filed tuition flexibility plans with the state Department of Higher Education Friday, the first such requests under a new state law that gives institutions greater control over tuition rates.

As of 5 p.m., the department had received e-mailed plans from the University of Colorado System, Metropolitan State College, Mesa State College and Fort Lewis College. The Colorado School of Mines notified the department it was not applying, according to Dawn Taylor Owens of DHE.

From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

A spokesman for the Colorado State University system told Education News Colorado that a plan would be filed.

The plans weren’t due until the end of the day Friday, rather than specifically at 5 p.m., so it was expected additional plans would be received during the evening. The department isn’t planning to release the documents until next week.

However, EdNews obtained a copy of the CU proposal, which is rather modest.

The new state law allows colleges to raise tuition up to 9 percent a year for each of the next five years without state approval. Institutions that feel they need larger increases may apply to CCHE for permission – those were the documents submitted Friday. Proposals also must include plans for protecting affordability and access for lower- and middle-income students. (See this story for additional background on the process.)

The 12-page CU plan includes a modest 9.5 percent proposed increase for resident undergraduate students in 2011-12, only half a percent above what the system could set without state approval. The plan includes raises “up to 9 percent” for school years 2012-13 through 2015-16. (That’s the year when the flexibility program ends.)

Although the CU proposal doesn’t appear to suggest new and different financial aid plans for lower- and middle-income students, the document discusses in detail its existing financial aid programs, saying, “The historic commitment that CU has made to institutional financial aid will continue.” The plan says part of increased revenue from tuition would be devoted to financial aid. (Read the CU proposal.)

Last summer the CSU system announced a plan designed to guarantee financial aid to many lower- and middle-income Colorado undergraduates to offset rising tuition (more details in this story).

The CU plan and all the others are considered “working” documents subject to discussion and refinement. So, tuition increases made in the proposals won’t necessarily be what college boards actually approve next spring.

A group of department staff members will review each request and pass it along to a subcommittee of the CCHE, which in turn will make recommendations to the full commission. The group expects to make decisions no later than September. The new flexibility law allows institutions to appeal CCHE decisions.

While the commission set Friday as the deadline for plans if colleges want flexibility for 2011-12, no specific deadline is in the new flexibility law. Several institutions have been concerned about making requests at this point, given that much can change before a state budget finally is adopted late next April.

The commission has said institutions can amend proposals after state revenue forecasts are made in April. And, the commission would have the power to reopen applications if it chooses, given there’s no cutoff in state law.

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