Who Is In Charge

Debate takes shape over CCHE role on tuition

Should the Colorado Commission on Higher Education have a say in state college tuition increases before or after they’re imposed on students?

Two answers have been posed to that question, one by the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee and another by the 12 executives of the state’s colleges, universities and systems.

Campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

The steering committee was appointed late last year by Gov. Bill Ritter to develop a new master plan for state colleges and universities. But, because of the budget threats facing the state system, the steering committee Friday also made the short-term recommendation about tuition, suggesting that colleges that want to raise tuition more than 9 percent a yearwould have to seek CCHE approval.

The institution CEOs responded Friday to that proposal, instead suggesting that individual school and system boards be empowered to approve tuition hikes of greater than 9 percent, with the CCHE authorized to step in if it chose “and work with the governing board to modify the tuition increases” in individual cases.

The commission, meeting Friday afternoon at Red Rocks Community College, passed a resolution endorsing the steering committee proposal. But, the commissioners added an extra paragraph to the resolution noting that the steering committee, the governor and the legislature also should consider the CEOs’ proposal

The commission’s vote, and the CEOs’ proposal, are only one step in the process. Ritter, who has been a proponent of keeping tuition affordable but recently has indicated he’s open to discussing the issue, has yet to weigh in on what he’ll suggests to the legislature. Whatever tuition plan emerges is expected to become part of Senate Bill 10-003, a higher ed flexibility proposal that has been on hold during the ongoing tuition discussion. And that bill will be subject to lobbying, debate and amendment as it moves through the legislature.

The governor said recently that he hopes to make a recommendation to the legislature before the end of this month.

Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education, Friday alluded to the fact that the discussion is moving beyond the commission and the steering committee. The governor and lawmakers “will do what they do. … “All the issues will kind of be out there for them to do with as they choose.”

Here are the high points of the steering committee’s proposed tuition plan:

  • Colleges would submit four-year financial and accountability plans to CCHE that would include tuition and financial flexibility for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.
  • The commission would consider and approve plans before the start of the 2011-12 budget cycle, which will begin next fall before the 2010 legislature convenes.
  • Any tuition increases larger than 9 percent would be contingent on an institution “demonstrating measures to protect affordability and accessibility for Colorado’s low and middle income students and families.” Institutions would have to consider all forms of financial aid and also work to minimize student debt.
  • CCHE could authorize plans for two years and would have to give fresh consideration to an institution’s request for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
  • Because only some institutions can practically raise tuition by significant amounts, the state should take a “system-wide” approach to allocating state tax revenues among institutions and “avoid suspending campus operations or closing institutions.”
  • Institutions that seek financial and operational flexibility would have to clearly demonstrate the savings, efficiencies or service improvements that would be generated by that flexibility.

Additional key points of the CEOs’ proposal include:

  • Passage of a state law that would allow institutions to approve any tuition increases they want up to 9 percent.
  • Ending the current practice of requiring a portion of tuition revenue be devoted to financial aid for the lowest-income students. Many in higher education feel that recent increases in federal Pell Grants well protect the lowest-income students and that institutions need greater flexibility in providing financial aid to lower-middle and middle-income students.
  • Financial flexibility for colleges, such as more freedom from state accounting rules, should be handled separately from any controls on tuition.

For the last several years the legislature has used a footnote in the annual budget bill to set ceilings on how much state colleges and universities could increase tuition each year. The percentages have varied year to year; the ceiling for this year was 9 percent, and the same figure is proposed for next year.

The state’s budget woes have forced the legislature to reduce tax support of colleges and universities, which also happened during the last recession. Higher ed overall revenue has been maintained only with tuition increases and federal stimulus funds. The federal money runs out after the 2010-11 budget year, setting higher ed for 2011-12 cuts of perhaps $100 million or more. That’s the immediate crisis state leaders are struggling with.

It’s important to remember that the debate over tuition generally is focused on costs for resident undergraduate students. Institutions for several years have had the power to do what they will with graduate tuition and rates for out-of-state undergrads. That policy is expected to continue.

Archive of EdNews stories on the strategic planning process and higher education


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”