Proposed Colorado budget increases funding to higher education, tuition still predicted to rise

Erin Douglas

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper released the fiscal year 2017-2018 state budget Tuesday, which included an allocation of over $4 billion to higher education.

Hickenlooper proposed that 15 percent of the state’s total budget go towards higher education in his FY 2017-18 Budget Request. The largest portion of the proposed budget is allocated towards health care policy and financing, at 33 percent.

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The budget could still change, as it still has to be approved by the General Assembly in early 2017.

The $4.22 billion in total funds that the governor proposed for higher education in the state is about 3 percent higher than last year’s appropriation, which amounts to about $27 million more.

According to the budget request, the proposed increase will help moderate tuition increases and address operating and health care costs.

While the budget request increases funds to higher education compared to those allocated last year, the governor’s office predicts that tuition will still increase across the state for college students. The governor’s office anticipates that tuition increases will average around 6 percent statewide, varying between 5 and 7.7 percent.

At the last CSU Board of Governors meeting, the board was presented with several different options for tuition increases depending on the change in state funding.

Resident undergraduate base tuition per semester for 15 credit hours: no change to state funding

  • Current rate: $5,483
  • 3 percent increase: $5,647
  • 5 percent increase: $5,757

Last year, the state contributed $134.5 million to the CSU system, which includes CSU Fort Collins, CSU Pueblo and CSU Global. However, state funding to CSU last year remained below pre recession levels—about 10 percent of the University’s budget.

The portion allocated to the CSU system by the state is determined by a performance-based system, which was implemented through House Bill 14-1319 in 2014.

“If universities and college do a better job of graduating kids then they’ll get more money from the state,” Hickenlooper said. “If they do a better job of making sure that kids get out of school with less debt then we’ll give them more resources.”

The state can put conditions on the money that universities receive from the state, which the state typically uses to curb tuition, Hickenlooper said.

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“The Universities just want the money, they don’t want any strings,” Hickenlooper said. “But, last year when we increased the budget for higher education we said, ‘Okay we’ll give you this much money on condition that you don’t raise tuition more than 3 percent.’”

Though state funds were a small percentage of the University’s budget last year, CSU President Tony Frank said that the decrease in state support over time has led to the rising costs of tuition.

“Virtually every year we raise tuition almost exclusively at public universities because state funding per student, which is the key part of the arithmetic, is going down,” Frank said in an interview with the Collegian.

While Hickenlooper supports higher education as a means of economic development, Colorado state support for higher education is one of the lowest rates in the country.

In an interview with the Collegian on Oct. 21, Hickenlooper said increasing funding to higher education is difficult to pitch to Colorado constituents.

“There’s a challenge that the public and a lot of senior citizens feel they’ve already gotten their education finished through their working life and they are a little more resistant.” Hickenlooper said. “So, it doesn’t have as much popular support as one would like.”

Hickenlooper said institutions of higher education play a large role in the state’s economic development.

“So, I keep telling people—if you want the economy to go down and us to not be able to give you a housing tax credit, which the state does for our senior citizens, then we have to make sure we keep the economy strong, and part of that is getting (students to attend school in Colorado),” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper attributed the lack of support to Coloradoans who want a strictly market economy.

“If you were to poll Coloradoans, probably more than half would say the state should be funding higher education less,” Hickenlooper said.

Not all of the funds Hickenlooper marked for higher education will go directly towards Colorado colleges and universities—according to the budget request, $1.6 million of the higher education general funds will go towards eight of Colorado’s history museums.

The budget recommendation is preliminary, and the Joint Budget Committee will consider recommendations before reintroducing it to the General Assembly in March.

Collegian News Editor Erin Douglas can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @erinmdouglas23.