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CSU Targets Credit Hours In Tuition Plan

By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO

Updated Oct. 4 - The Colorado State University system is proposing to raise tuition in 2011-12 by requiring some students to take more credit hours to qualify as full time. The university also is studying variable tuition rates for different kinds of programs.

Those are the key elements of the tuition flexibility planned filed by the system with the state Department of Higher Education last Friday. Education New Colorado reviewed the CSU plan on Monday.

All state colleges and universities except the Colorado School of Mines filed plans, which will be reviewed by department staff and then the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

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

A 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.)

At the Fort Collins campus, CSU proposes to change the definition of full-time for undergraduates from 10 to 12 credit hours, which the plan says “which would translate to an additional $525 in tuition per semester. Students taking 10 or fewer credit hours will not experience an increase in their tuition.” (Read the CSU proposal here.)

In Pueblo, the university proposes to raise tuition rates for students taking 13 to 18 credit hours, rates that currently are discounted. “A typical student taking 15 credit hours would experience an increase of $380 per semester and if taking 18 credit hours an increase of $586,” the document says.

The 16-page CSU application assumes specific levels of state support in 2011-12 and warns that tuition may have to go higher if state funding doesn’t meet those levels. The document also notes, “If granted additional flexibility, resident tuition rates at CSU and CSU-Pueblo still will be nearly 20 percent lower than tuition rates at Colorado’s other research institutions.”

On the issue of financial aid, the CSU proposal references the Commitment to Colorado plan announced last summer, under which resident students working towards their first bachelor’s degree and whose families make $57,000 or less pay only half the standard tuition rate. Students from lower-income families who are eligible for Pell grants will not pay any tuition or fees to attend CSU (more details in this story).

The 12-page plan filed by the University of Colorado System 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.)

The two plans 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.

The CSU document takes care to stress that, saying, “This Financial Accountability Plan is a placeholder request as the actual determination of tuition rates and increases by the Board of Governors will not occur until next spring. Actual tuition rates will be dependent on the actual level of state funding for higher education in fiscal year 2012. The funding level will not be known until at least next April and, therefore, we are presenting concepts and nothing more at this time.”

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.

The plans cover tuition only for residents undergraduate students. College trustees already are free to set whatever tuition they choose for out-of-state undergrads and for all graduate students.

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