February 21, 2014 Updated: February 21, 2014 at 5:57 am
Tuition breaks are likely on the horizon for in-state undergraduate students in the University of Colorado system, which includes the Colorado Springs campus.
Meeting in Colorado Springs on Thursday, the Board of Regents indicated it favors raising tuition by less than the 6 percent cap Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to set on state colleges and universities for the 2014-2015 academic year.
CU administrative officials are recommending tuition boosts of 3.5 percent to 4 percent for undergraduate residents, to balance projected budgets.
However, the nine-member elected board - which governs CU schools in Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora - discussed tuition increases ranging from zero to 4 percent.
"Tuition and fees have substantially outpaced the fall in state funding. We continue to place the burden of our expenses on the backs of our tuition-paying students," said CU Regent James Geddes, a surgeon who asked fellow regents to consider not raising tuition on the Boulder campus.
The nation's recession led to severe cuts in state funding for higher education in recent years, which in turn prompted schools to bump tuition higher.
With state revenues improving during the recovering economy, Hickenlooper wants to increase higher education spending by $100 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Of that, $60 million would be earmarked for operating expenses at schools and $40 million would pay for various types of student financial aid.
The appropriations request is contained in Senate Bill 1, the College Affordability Act, which state lawmakers are considering.
"It will have a very substantive impact," said CU Regent Joe Neguse, a Denver attorney.
The bill also would lower the maximum tuition increase for state colleges and universities for in-state undergraduates from 9 percent to 6 percent.
For the current school year, CU Boulder raised tuition by 8.7percent, while students attending UCCS saw a 6 percent increase.
UCCS officials are asking regents to consider a 3.6 percent to 4 percent tuition hike for next school year, said Brian Burnett, senior executive vice chancellor of administration and finance. That would be the lowest raise since 2006-2007.
The increase would cost in-state undergraduate students about $270 to $300 more in annual tuition and result in $9 million to $9.36 million in additional revenue.
Meeting enrollment goals is the main concern for UCCS, Burnett said. The system's designated growth campus, UCCS this year topped 10,000 students for the first time in its 49 years.
Enrollment is projected to crack 11,000 in the fall and reach nearly 12,000 students in two years, Burnett said.
On the other hand, CU Denver officials are projecting a fourth year of enrollment decline, and CU Boulder leaders are expecting enrollment to remain flat.
If the Legislature approves the College Affordability Act, the entire CU system would receive $16.5 million for operating expenses, said Todd Saliman, chief financial officer and vice president of budget and finance.
That would pay for more than half of the $29.3 million compensation and benefits package the university system is considering for next fiscal year, he said.
The figure is based on a mandatory 4.5 percent salary increase for classified employees and an optional 3 percent to cover costs of inflation for faculty and exempt personnel.
The state-mandated salary increases for classified staff are an additional expense for institutions to shoulder, said Regent Michael Carrigan, a Denver attorney who leads the board.
"I'm concerned there's a perception that we're getting found money, but we're also getting a significant mandated cost," he said.
Regents are expected to vote on tuition rates within the next six weeks, CU system spokesman Ken McConnellogue said. Increases likely will fall in the ranges discussed Thursday, he said.
Campus budgets won't be finalized until June and will depend on the outcome of Senate Bill 1.
"If it gets derailed, all bets are off," McConnellogue said.