Deadline nears for college tuition plans

The discussion about how much tuition Colorado college students will pay next fall kicks off in earnest on Friday, the deadline for state colleges and universities to submit tuition flexibility plans to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

A new state law allows colleges to raise resident undergraduate tuition as much as 9 percent a year for each of the next five school years. And, institutions that want larger increases can request permission to do so from CCHE. (Prior to the law the legislature set tuition increase caps every spring when it prepared the annual state budget bill. See background story on the new law.)

It’s such requests that are due Friday, setting off two months of analysis and discussion by Department of Higher Education and college officials, followed by CCHE decisions no later than its Dec. 2 meeting.

Colleges can’t request just the power to raise tuition more than 9 percent – they have to submit five-year plans detailing the proposed increases and how they propose to maintain accessibility and affordability for low- and middle-income students, control student debt, address the needs of under-served students and maintain academic quality. (See DHE template for the applications.)

Department of Higher Education Director Rico Munn
Department of Higher Education Director Rico Munn

Rico Munn, director of the department, briefed reporters on the process Wednesday, saying it’s “brand new for all of us” and predicting the department and the colleges will learn a lot as they do this for the first time.

“We don’t know if they [applications] will be two pages or 300 pages,” Munn said, joking that “We expect plans will come in at about 4:58 p.m.” on Friday.

Munn and other department officials cautioned that tuition proposals in the flexibility requests won’t necessarily turn out to be the rates approved by college boards next spring. “The numbers that are put out in these plans … may not be the actual tuition,” Munn said. “We expect a lot of changes to submissions as we go along.”

The director said he doesn’t know how many colleges will apply but noted, “nobody definitely has said no.” He added, “I promise you we’re geared up for this. We’re planning for the maximum number.” (The state system has 10 governing boards, the bodies that set tuition.)

College leaders have kept their plans close to their vests, and no requests had been filed as of Wednesday.

There’s been some tension between the colleges and the department over the schedule for the flexibility plans, with some campus leaders feeling the Oct. 1 deadline was too early, particularly since they won’t know until at least April exactly how much state tax money will be available for higher education. A lower level of state support creates pressure for larger tuition increases.

Because of that budget uncertainty, some colleges have talked about filing “contingent” plans containing multiple proposals based on different levels of state support. Munn said, “I hope the plans have a variety of assumptions.”

Colleges have to file plans by Friday in order to be eligible for tuition flexibility next school year, but the plans can be amended in the spring, based on updated budget prospects, Munn said.

He also said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if other institutions propose plans similar to a program announced by CSU last June, which increases financial aid for many lower- and middle-income students to offset rising tuition.

A committee of department staff members will review each request and pass it along to a subcommittee of the CCHE, which in turn will make recommendations to the full commission. The new flexibility law allows institutions to appeal CCHE decisions.

Colorado’s colleges and universities

The state system includes 25 colleges but only the 10 governing boards with tuition-setting authority.

Adams, Fort Lewis, Metropolitan, Mesa and Western state colleges have individual boards, as do the School of Mines and the University of Northern Colorado. The University of Colorado has three units, Colorado State University has two campuses plus an online unit and the Community College System includes 13 institutions.

Two other community colleges, Aims and Colorado Mountain, and three technical colleges also receive some state funding under different formulas and are not covered by the new tuition law.

Virtually all state campuses increased resident undergraduate tuition 9 percent for the current school year.

Colleges and universities are free to set whatever tuition they like for out-of-state undergraduates and for all graduate students.

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