Clock starts ticking on tuition plans

While Colorado college students are loafing or waiting tables this summer, college administrators are getting to work on plans that could affect how much college will cost five years from now.

Senate Bill 10-003, signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter on Wednesday, changes a lot of the rules – albeit temporarily – for how institutions in the state system handle their money.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Gov. Bill Ritter signs Senate Bill 10-003 on June 9. Those attending included Nancy McCallin, community college system president (at left); CU President Bruce Benson (next to McCallin), and bill sponsors Mike May (behind Benson), Karen Middleton (behind Ritter) and John Morse (far right). Photo courtesy governor's press office.

For the last several years, tuition increase ceilings have been recommended by the governor every fall and set by the legislature every spring, just a couple of months before college budget years start on July 1.

That system was used for the last time in the 2010-11 state budget bill, which allows colleges to raise tuition by up to 9 percent for resident undergraduate students for the upcoming school year. Most colleges have taken that route for next year. (Colleges already have freedom to set tuition for non-resident undergraduates and for grad students.)

College and university presidents have been pushing to change that system, arguing that they need longer budget planning time and more freedom to use tuition hikes to offset cuts in start support, which began in 2009-10 and are expected to become more severe in 2011-12, when federal stimulus money dries up.

Neither Ritter nor legislators were willing to give college trustees a tuition blank check, but SB 10-003 does give them more predictability and the chance to make the case for tuition increases higher than 9 percent.

Starting with the 2011-12 school year and running through 2015-16, every college board will be free to raise tuition up to 9 percent a year without executive branch or legislative approval.

(That means a hypothetical credit hour that cost $50 this year would cost $84 in 2015-15, a 68 percent increase.)

And, colleges that want increases of more than 9 percent a year can request permission from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Institutions seeking increases of more than 9 percent will have to submit five-year plans detailed the proposed increases, how they proposed to maintain accessibility and affordability for low- and middle-income students, how they will control student debt, how they will address the needs of underserved students and how they will maintain academic quality.

The CCHE has 90 days to decide on a college’s application and can give approval for the first two years. Approval for the following three years is dependent on an institution demonstrating it has successfully implemented its plan.

If the commission rejects a college’s plan, the school can submit an alternate.

While the start of the 2011-12 school year may seem far in the future, the financial planning needs to start this summer.

The CCHE is beginning to develop a system for handling institutions’ requests, and the commission is expected to discuss the issue further at a June 17 special meeting.

Four key issues need to be fleshed out before institutions are in a position to decide whether to apply for expanded tuition authority. The commission needs to decide on a 2011-12 allocation model (how much state money individual colleges should receive), the format for applications, some guidance on what protection of access and affordability means, and a timetable for the whole process.

The timetable looks like it will have to be worked in between July 1 and Nov. 1, when the executive branch sends its detailed 2011-12 budget proposal to the legislative Joint Budget Committee.

Rico Munn, director of Colorado Department of Higher Education

Given that groundwork that needs to be done, “It’s too early” to predict how many institutions might apply said Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education.

There’s additional paperwork for colleges to do this summer and fall. SB 10-003 also gives each institution a Nov. 10 deadline to prepare a report detailing how it would handle a 50 percent cut in direct state support.

Total higher education revenue is being held at about $2 billion a year, but only with the help of tuition increases and federal stimulus funds. Some legislators fear that continued sluggishness in state revenues could force a cut in state support of as much as $300 million in 2011-12. (Officials will bet an updated look at the revenue picture on June 21, when updated quarterly forecasts are issued.)

While SB 10-003 lays out a lot of financial details, it’s explicitly meant to be an interim measure.

“Senate Bill 3 is not a permanent fix. It does, however, provide short-term relief while we develop a strategic roadmap for long-term sustainability, and central to this new law is the principle that a public higher education in Colorado remains affordable and accessible to all,” Ritter said during Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony.

So, the other key part of the new law requires the commission to submit a proposed master plan for higher education to the governor and legislature by Dec. 15.

That work began months before the bill was passed under the direction of a Ritter-appointed panel called the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee. Four subcommittees have been working on details of the plan, and their preliminary suggestions are expected to be discussed at a June 23 steering committee meeting.

“I’m very satisfied with the strategic planning process,” Munn said in a recent interview. “I hope that when the (2011) session starts the real discussion is about the master plan.”

While its tuition and master plan provisions have received the most attention, SB 10-003 gives colleges more freedom in other areas as well, including:

  • Colleges can decide how they use their allocations of state financial aid.
  • The University of Colorado and Colorado State University have freedom to enroll more foreign students, who typically pay full non-resident rates, as long as the two systems meet certain access requirements for Colorado students.
  • Institutions don’t have to follow state controller’s fiscal rules if they have their own, and colleges can set their own rules for employee perks.
  • Colleges are allowed to set their own policies for payments, lease-purchase agreements, debt collections and write-offs, and motor vehicle use rules.
  • Institutions will have more flexibility in rehiring retirees, making personal services contracts and enforcing contracts with vendors.
  • There’s some loosening of CCHE review over campus construction projects.

Do your homework

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede