The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents is considering raising tuition for incoming graduate and undergraduate students after the plans were introduced at the board’s meeting on Feb. 9.
Regents are discussing a proposal for a 4% increase in new student tuition in an effort to get ahead of declining enrollment rates and several other “budgetary challenges” that university leaders say could cause shortfalls going forward.
Glenn Gallegos, a Republican regent for the 3rd Congressional District, said regents discussed the issue of declining enrollment early on the day of the meeting.
“Our decline in enrollment…that’s still a concern on some of our campuses,” Gallegos said.
CU Boulder has largely seen slightly increased enrollment since the pandemic, with attendance increasing past pre-2020 levels this past academic year. Now, officials expect attendance to decline by 0.7% at CU Boulder in the coming semester.
The tuition increase was first described by Chad Marturano, the chief financial officer for the university system, as he laid out the “initial budget scenarios” for each of the system’s campuses.
“At [CU] Boulder, you see a 4% tuition rate increase for first-time students, and that’s around a $461 increase for that base tuition rate,” Marturano said at the board meeting.
Marturano cited a variety of budgetary concerns for the university, like rising costs due to inflation, pressures to raise wages and declining enrollment.
The Boulder campus specifically raised concerns because of a growing backlog of maintenance issues, costs associated with healthcare and an emphasis on upgrading existing technological infrastructure on the campus.
“There’s a lot of challenges we’re wrestling with,” Marturano said.
Officials cited a lack of state funding as an important area of budgetary concern. However, the state government could allocate anywhere from an additional 6.3% to 13.8% in funding for the coming fiscal year.
Raising tuition will have some benefits for university community members, according to Marturano. Hiking costs will allow for a 5% pay increase for classified employees, keeping pace with other state agencies, and minimum wage increases from $15 per hour to $18 per hour for staff and $16 per hour for student employees.
The plan also accounts for a 4% increase in the pool of money allocated to merit-based raises for salaried employees.
At CU Boulder, officials expect enrollment to decline by about 0.7% overall. Undergraduate student enrollment is expected to decrease by 0.2%, while graduate student enrollment could be down by as much as 2.5%.
The university saw a spike in enrollment in 2022, moving the university’s attendance higher than pre-pandemic levels. Officials say they don’t expect this trend to continue into the future.
In 2020, CU Boulder’s enrollment dipped for the first time in nearly a decade as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the fall of 2021 saw the university’s numbers rebound to their 2019 levels, a trend that continued in 2022.
This data makes the University of Colorado, and CU Boulder, an outlier in the nation. A study published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) in September of 2022 showed enrollment in higher education institutions declined across the country for the fifth straight semester.
The study showed that while the decline in enrollment wasn’t as steep as pandemic-era drops, it still is a cause for concern for some universities as they build funding models on increased numbers of students every year.
Despite a few years countering this downward trend, CU Boulder’s Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke said the expected decline is “largely because the campus graduated a larger-than-normal cohort of graduate students after returning to more normal operations last year” in a university release.
A lack of incoming international students and less-than-expected numbers of in-state residential students are also reasons for the lackluster enrollment, O’Rourke said.
In the same release, CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano said tuition revenue “won’t fully fund campus initiatives.”
The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) in the Colorado legislature will help decide how much money to allocate to the university system going forward. University officials, who have long lobbied for more money directed toward higher education, hope legislators err on the higher side of their current estimates.
The state will decide the amount of funding to allocate to the university, and all other parts of the state budget, by late March.
The regents will officially vote on the budget proposals at their next meeting in April, with the hopes of better understanding what the state funding landscape looks like by then.
Contact CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Henry Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org.