Colorado

New era dawns for college tuition

The Colorado legislature this year gave up its direct power to control college and university tuition, but the rates students may pay in the next five years indirectly still will be up to lawmakers.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday unanimously approved tuition flexibility plans submitted by six higher education institutions and systems. Five of the plans contain “what-if” scenarios that suggest different levels of tuition increases depending on how much state support the 2011 legislature allocates to higher ed.

So the lower state support is, the more tuition may jump.

A law passed by the 2010 legislature allows college boards of trustees to raise tuition up to 9 percent a year for each of the next five years. (Traditionally, the legislature set tuition increase ceilings in the annual state budget bill.) The new law also allows colleges that want higher rates to ask permission from the CCHE. Those are the plans approved by the commission Thursday.

The commission votes don’t set future tuition rates, nor have any colleges and universities made official tuition decisions for 2011-12. The commission merely gave institutions authority to raise tuition more than 9 percent, and individual college boards won’t set actual 2011-12 tuition until next May or June.

“Nobody wants these tuition increases. What we have tried to do is set up a mechanism for colleges to respond if they have to,” said Rick Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education.

Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed $555 million in state support for higher ed in 2011-12, so that’s the base against which colleges have calculated their what-if tuition plans (see this story for background). Of course, that amount may change depending on state revenues, the proposals of the incoming Hickenlooper administration and, ultimately, the decisions of the legislature.

At a previous meeting, the commission approved flexibility plans for the Colorado State University System, Metro State College and Fort Lewis College (see this story for details). The Colorado School of Mines chose not to file an application.

The flexibility law requires colleges to have plans to maintain affordability for low- and middle-income students. While institutions have proposed a wide variety of affordability strategies, a common tactic is to earmark percentages of increased tuition revenue for financial aid and for student counseling and retention programs.

The plans are a sign of the accelerating shift towards state college pricing models that look more like those of private colleges – higher tuition, different tuition rates for different programs depending on cost and student demand and more individually tailored financial aid based on the needs of individual students.

Here are highlights of the flexibility requests approved Thursday:

University of Colorado System – The university won’t raise undergraduate resident tuition more than 9 percent if currently proposed levels of state aid for 2011-12 are approved. At a lower level of state funding, CU would raise tuition up to 9.5 percent. The system did not request permission for increases above 9 percent in budget years 2012-13 through 2015-16.

Community College System – The system won’t raise tuition more than 9 percent if state funding is approved at forecast levels, but it may raise 2011-12 tuition by 15.7 percent if state aid is 10 percent below what has been proposed. Also, depending on state support, the system wants the flexibility to raise tuition between 10.8 and 12.7 percent in 2012-13.

University of Northern Colorado – The university proposes average increases of 15 percent next year (ranging from 8 to 22 percent depending on program and credit hours taken), an average of 12 percent in 2014-15 and of 9 percent in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Adams State College – Tuition could increase 11 percent annually through the five-year period if 2011-12 state support comes in at the forecast levels. If state aid drops by about 10 percent, Adams proposes a 25 percent increase next year, 20 percent in 2012-13, 12 percent in 2013-14 and 9 percent in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Mesa State College – The college proposes keeping overall tuition increases below 9 percent if state funding is as expected. If state funding is more than 10 percent below projected levels, Mesa proposes to increase tuition .49 percent for each percentage that state funding drops. The college doesn’t expect increases of more than 9 percent for 2012-13 through 2015-16.

Western State College – The college is considering raising tuition by 11.6 percent a year during the five-year period if state funding is stable and by 16 percent a year if state funding drops by 10 percent or more.

The new flexibility system applies only to tuition for Colorado residents who are undergraduates. College trustees can set rates as they choose for out-of-state students and for graduate programs.

(See the bottom of this DHE page for links to the full financial plans for each college and system. Go here to read a new DHE detailed new report on tuition rates and fees in the current school year, and see a report on financial aid for Colorado students in 2009-10 here. Also see this table showing the change in tuition and fees from 2009-10 to 2010-11.)

Master plan, or master planning?

Now that a citizens’ committee has taken a year to develop a higher education strategic plan, the commission is going to take another year to decide how to implement it.

The commission Thursday formally adopted the strategic plan recently finished by a citizen committee as part of the CCHE’s new master plan for higher education. DHE staff also proposed that the commission develop more detailed plans to implement the broader goals suggest in the document, titled “The Degree Dividend.”

That sparked discussion among commission members about whether they were adopting a “master plan” or a system of “master planning.” Eventually they agreed to give themselves a Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for the additional work.

At any rate, the tuition flexibility law also requires CCHE to submit a plan to the legislature before the 2011 session starts, so “The Degree Dividend” was approved as that document and will be sent along to the Capitol.

Another delay for Westwood

For the second time this fall, the commission delayed a decision on whether to place for-profit Westwood College on “probationary accreditation.” The college has been placed on probation by its accrediting agency, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges. The CCHE in October discussed whether to put Westwood on Colorado probation to align with the accrediting body’s action.

No decision was made then because the accrediting commission was to reconsider the Westwood case in November. Staff members told CCHE Thursday that the accrediting commission apparently has made a decision but won’t be announcing it until next week.

So, CCHE again decided to wait to act until after the national body’s decision is known. (See previous story about Westwood and CCHE.)

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.