Bill gives colleges flexibility on tuition

DENVER — Calling it a stopgap measure to save higher education, Gov. Bill Ritter signed a bill Wednesday giving Colorado colleges more flexibility to set tuition rates.

He also signed a measure providing $35 million to help lower- and middle-income students with tuition.

“Higher education has reached a funding crossroad here in Colorado and many states across the country,” Ritter said as college presidents and lawmakers joined him in his office. “We face serious challenges if we do nothing. This is not a long-term fix; this is not a panacea.”

Lawmakers say the legislation was necessary because the state plans to cut college funding by $300 million next year to cover a projected $1.7 billion budget deficit.

Colleges were notified they should plan for up to a 50 percent cut next year in state funding.

“That magnitude of a cut is going to be catastrophic,” warned Senate Majority Leader John Morse, a Democrat from Colorado Springs who spent weeks compiling spreadsheets trying to find a solution.

Mesa State President Tim Foster could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But last month, after the Legislature sent the bill to Ritter’s desk, Foster said the 50 percent cut amounted to about $10 million for the college.

In a meeting with the college’s board of trustees May 14, Foster said the bill requires all colleges and universities to submit a plan by Nov. 10 to the Legislature about how they would handle such a cut.

Foster said he was tempted instead to suggest ways the state could cut its budget elsewhere.

The tuition flexibility bill allows governing boards to increase tuition up to 9 percent per year for the next six years, starting in July 2011. Larger increases would have to be approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

CCHE Director Rico Munn said colleges will have to wait until August or September to find out how much money they will get from tuition and how much they will get from the state before they decide whether to seek waivers.

Justin Croft, a junior at Metropolitan State College in Denver, said he will have to work more part-time jobs to pay for the expected increases, but he’s glad the state will still have oversight instead of cutting higher education off from state funding.

“It’s a tough situation for everybody,” he said.

Sentinel staff contributed to this story.


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