Colorado Mountain College trustees weighing 11 percent hike in tuition

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

A multiyear plan to increase Colorado Mountain College tuition at a rate administrators say is needed to keep up with expenses is coming under scrutiny from members of CMC’s governing board.

The plan, which resulted in an 8.7 percent increase in the in-district tuition rate for this year, calls for another 11.3 percent increase for the 2017-18 academic year. Under the plan, the in-district rate would go from the current rate of $62 per credit hour to $69 next year.

Tuition for students living within CMC’s service area but outside the official taxing district would see a 16.3 percent increase under the proposal, and those from elsewhere in Colorado would pay an additional 15.7 percent.

“Even with the proposed increases, CMC would remain the lowest-cost institution in the state,” CMC Chief Operating Officer Matt Gianneschi said Wednesday during a board of trustees work session in Glenwood Springs.

The out-of-state, non-resident tuition rate, which saw an increase of 18 percent in each of the past two years, would not go up again next year.

The larger goal is to eventually bring tuition for associates degree programs in line with the higher tuition rate that was established for the limited bachelor degree programs that have been introduced in recent years. The in-district tuition rate for bachelor-level classes is $99 per credit hour.

Gianneschi said the tuition plan is necessary to keep pace with ever-rising costs to run the sprawling, property tax-funded college district that stretches across nine Western Slope counties and includes residential campuses in Glenwood Springs, Leadville and Steamboat Springs.

Preliminary budget projections for the fiscal year beginning in July 2017 call for a 2.5 percent cost-of-living pay increase for college employees, a 7.5 percent increase in employee health insurance and a 0.9 percent increase in the state public employee retirement program.

Those percentage increases are expected to stay consistent over the next five years, Gianneschi said.

The college also proposes a $4.2 million facilities maintenance and upkeep budget. That number is expected to rise to $4.5 million over the next five years.

Overall, CMC is looking at a $68.2 million expense budget for 2017-18, about $12.7 million of which is proposed to come from tuition, according to the preliminary budget figures.

On the revenue side, the district is anticipating a 10 percent average increase in residential and business property tax revenue for the coming year, while oil and gas tax revenue are projected to drop by 30 percent.

Numerous local governments and special districts, particularly in Garfield County, that derive some of their funding from oil and gas production have been forced to cut their budgets for 2017 and beyond due to the recent downturn in drilling activity.

Some CMC trustees are concerned that too much of the cost burden is being put on the backs of students through tuition increases.

“You need to look at it from the student’s perspective,” Trustee Kathy Goudy of Carbondale said.

“I just think the percentage increase is really high and we should be looking to see if there are some other ways to cut administrative costs,” she said.

Trustees will decide on the tuition proposal at their Jan. 25 meeting in Edwards, but asked to see a budget comparison looking at a range of tuition increase options from 5 percent up to the proposed 11.3 percent before making that decision.

Board President Glenn Davis noted that the budget plan is meant to carry out the college’s strategic plan goals but acknowledged the impact to students who might be at the tipping point.

“In private industry, if we were looking at this, something would have to give,” Davis said, suggesting that for the college’s sake that might mean deferred maintenance on some of its facilities.

As for tuition, “there is a real possibility that, even though we might say it’s no big deal, it’s just seven bucks, there are people at the margins who will be impacted by that,” Davis said.

CMC President Carrie Hauser encouraged the board to keep the long view in terms of doing what the college has determined necessary to provide access to higher education for those who might otherwise not have that opportunity.

“I know it’s hard to take your eye off of 11 percent, and that is a $7 increase,” she said. “But on the back end there is a huge amount of strategy that’s going into making sure we are investing in those students.”

Gianneschi said the college has made efforts to cut expenses, including applying minimum class enrollments and “knowing when to stop” if a program is not panning out.