College searches for cuts as state provides less

Mesa State College is planning for more students and less state funding.

The state has contributed an increasingly smaller portion of the school’s budget every year since 1999, except for the 2007–2008 school year. That means tuition has accounted for a greater chunk of the budget. Tuition paid 35.15 percent of the budget in 1999. This year, it accounted for 55.66 percent of the budget.

Patrick Doyle, Mesa State’s vice president of finances, attributed the shift to a tough economy and few rules for funding higher education at the state level. Unlike K–12 funding, which is mandated by the state constitution and statutes to receive a funding increase of inflation plus 1 percent each year, higher education is funded at the legislature’s discretion.

Because of cuts in state funding, Mesa State eliminated $4.1 million from last year’s budget and will have to find $2.2 million in cuts this year.

Doyle said he’s not sure what will happen to tuition prices if cuts continue, but he said the college is focused on gathering more revenue from tuition simply by adding students. Enrollment is up to a record of more than 6,700 students this year and the college expects to serve 7,000 students by the end of the year, said college spokeswoman Dana Nunn.

Higher education funding will be propped up by stimulus funds through next school year, providing 13.76 percent of this year’s Mesa State budget and 7.74 percent of next year’s budget. But the money won’t last, and College Trustee Douglas Price doesn’t expect the state to backfill the money lost when stimulus funding expires.

“I think we should plan not to have it restored,” he said at a trustee meeting Wednesday.

College President Tim Foster said the school is proceeding with that idea in mind. He said if tuition increases to help backfill the amount, he wants to make the increase gradual rather than “having inordinate tuition growth.”

Although he worries about a potential strain on the college’s library, Foster said he believes the school could hold up to 10,000 students in the near future. If a new residence hall is needed — and that’s a likely need since a new residence hall went up this year and the school still faced residential overcrowding — Foster said room and board paid by new students would cover the cost of building a hall.

For now, Doyle said he’s continuing to examine potential budget cuts by seeing which college services may not be as efficient as others. His task is made harder, though, by an expected 15 percent or larger increase in the cost of providing health insurance via Rocky Mountain Health Plans to college employees.

“It’s a combination of rising health care costs and some faculty and staff filing more claims” driving up the price, Doyle said.


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