CCHE wrestles with slicing higher ed pie

Colorado colleges and universities are taking a wait-and-see attitude about their newly won ability to seek authority for raising tuition more than 9 percent a year.

Why? College leaders say they won’t know how much they may need to hike tuition until they get a better idea about how much state support will be available in 2011-12 and how that money will be split among institutions.

How to divide the money is the focus of ongoing work by the Department of Higher Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Whatever allocation system they come up with is bound to be contentious and to make some – or perhaps all – institutions unhappy.

Higher ed leaders are being forced to confront the issue because of a complicated and interlocking set of events and circumstances, including:

• The continuing state revenue crisis, which was highlighted in June revenue forecasts that warned the state may have to cut up to $1 billion from the 2011-12 state budget (see story). There’s no question that higher ed will receive less direct state support than the $620.8 million in the current budget, much of which is the last installment of federal stimulus funds.

• The hard truth that state colleges and universities have differing abilities to raise revenues from tuition and grants. It’s seen as easier for CU’s Boulder campus, CSU-Fort Collins and the Colorado School of Mines to raise tuition and still maintain enrollment than it is for some of the state’s four-year colleges, which have smaller pools of potential applicants and more lower-income students.

• A new state law (Senate Bill 10-003) that gives colleges greater freedom in managing their budgets and the right to ask for tuition increases higher than the 9 percent hikes that now are allowed annually through 2015-16. Another key piece of that law gives the CCHE more clout than it’s had in recent years, including review over those tuition authority requests.

The big picture

The state support being debated by CCHE and college leaders is only part of state higher education funding.

The current, 2010-11 budget for state colleges and universities totals about $2 billion, funded by about $900 million in resident tuition, $500 million in non-resident tuition and about $600 million in state dollars and federal ARRA funds. This is the last budget year those federal funds will be available.

At its July 8 meeting the commission adopted a deadline schedule and an application form for institutions that want tuition flexibility. Applications will be accepted between Aug. 2 and Oct. 1, review and negotiations with institutions is be finished by Oct. 29, CCHE decisions will be made by Nov. 4 and recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee will be made by Dec. 10. (See the template for college financial accountability plans.)

The deadline schedule was a compromise between CCHE and the institutions, but some college leaders are still uncomfortable with it. And, it doesn’t look like colleges will be rushing to file applications in early August.

Education News Colorado last week surveyed all 10 state colleges and systems. No institution is definitely planning to apply, and only Adams State College has no plans to apply. Representatives of the Colorado and Colorado State university systems, the community colleges, the School of Mines and the University of Northern Colorado plus Metro, Fort Lewis, Mesa and Western State colleges said they were still studying the issue or haven’t yet taken it up.

Metro State President Steve Jordan discussed the unknowns that colleges face. “We are doing some modeling that makes the presumption that general fund [state support] will be cut.” So, Metro will prepare an initial document that suggests different levels of tuition for different amounts of state cuts. “We intend to put in some markers … and then we will revise those once we know the reality” of state funding, Jordan said.

Metro State President Steve Jordan

Other colleges also are expected to prepare similar “what if” proposals.

Mesa President Tim Foster said, “We will probably hedge and ask for some nominal increase above 9 percent.  In that way we can keep an eye on what the legislature does with respect to higher education budgets and react accordingly with a possible amendment.”

Brad Baca, Western State vice president for finance and administration, said, “Most likely, the plan and the amount of tuition flexibility proposed will be indexed against varying scenarios of state support.”

The commission is scheduled to return to the allocation issue at its next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 5 at Front Range Community College in Westminster.

At a June 17 meeting, commissioners discussed guiding principles for proposed allocation of state funds. The key elements of that document were based on whether state support in 2011-12 is below or above $500 million.

If state funds are less than $500 million, DHE staff propose using a “total revenue” model that would “allow institutions better positioned to utilize tuition flexibility to do so while protecting core functions at community colleges and institutions less able to leverage tuition flexibility.”

If state funding is above $500 million, DHE staff propose using a blended model for allocating funds to individual colleges, taking into consideration prior year funding, ability to raise tuition and enrollment changes. (Read document.)

At a lightly attended meeting on July 8, DHE Chief Financial Officer Mark Cavanaugh presented the commission with more detailed scenarios.

In a worst-case scenario of $450 million in state support for 2011-12, a proportional cut would mean each school would lose 30.2 percent of the state and stimulus funding it’s receiving this year.

The cuts would vary if more state money is channeled to institutions with less ability to raise tuition. Under that model, cuts would range from about 41 percent for the School of Mines and the CU system to a low of 17.2 percent at Western State College. In theory, institutions that received less state support would raise tuition to make up the difference.

Cavanaugh also presented options for $550 million, which still is less than this year’s budget for higher ed. “Fiscal year 11-12 is going to be rough year,” Cavanaugh told the commission. “It’s a very difficult thing to know what that number [state support] is going to be.” (See the full document here. EdNews summary is below, and the story continues after the chart.)

Allocation of state support among colleges is an issue fraught with contention, because every institution and system zealously protects its own financial interests and is quick to see harm in proposals that shift support among campuses.

Leaders of community colleges and Metro, for instance, point out that they draw historically under-served groups of students and have had the largest enrollment growth. They believe funding allocations in recent budgets haven’t accounted for that growth.

Jordan told EdNews, “It seems to make more sense” to use the tuition-adjustment model and funnel more state support to institutions like his that “don’t have the ability to do that cost shift” – raising tuition and then using revenue from wealthier students to subsidize financial aid for poorer students.

Research institutions, particularly the CU system, argue that their ability to raise tuition much more is limited, that they’re key drivers of the state’s economy and need support for high-cost professional programs such as those on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
CU President Bruce Benson

CU President Bruce Benson said in an interview that proposed allocation formulas often slight the needs of high-cost programs like Anschutz and the CSE veterinary medicine program. “People keep disregarding the major assets of this state … in their formulas.”

Smaller outstate institutions like Adams State, Western State, Mesa State and Fort Lewis colleges point to the services they provide to their regions and their inability to significantly raise tuition, given the kinds and numbers of applicants they attract.

Community college leader also are reluctant to raise tuition because of their open-access mission and the large numbers of low-income students they serve.

Taking the long view
While CCHE is wrestling with immediate budget issues, a collection of other panels (which include several commission members) is working on a long-term strategic plan for higher ed, including how to pay for it.

The Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee also is discussing the idea of concentrating scarce state dollars at some colleges while allowing otherss to rely more on tuition.

The steering committee meets Aug. 3 to begin narrowing down possible recommendations.

“They [CCHE] ought to look at tuition-raising ability,” Benson said, but he suggested that more institutions than CU, CSU and Mines could afford to raise tuition rates, which he said in some cases lag behind costs at similar institutions in other states. “There is a capacity to raise tuition.”

The window for making budget recommendations is a relatively narrow one. The executive branch must make its 2011-12 budget recommendations to the JBC by Nov. 1, and the panel begins hearings on the 2011-12 budget shortly after that.

In the meantime, there’s going to be lots of rhetorical jostling in the higher ed community.

“Yes,” Benson said with a chuckle, “we’re going to have some serious discussions.”

While they’re debating allocations, institutions and CCHE also face an even grimmer financial assignment. SB 10-003 requires them to prepare plans for what they’d do if state support is cut by 50 percent in 2011-12. Those reports, to be coordinated by CCHE, are due Nov. 10.

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Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.