Lifting the tuition cap: Will Colorado students fall through the cracks?

Colorado State University professor John Straayer, an expert on state government, says Colorado's recent decision to allow universities to hike tuition by unprecedented amounts further threatens to put higher education out of reach for thousands of residents.

"Tuition flexibility" is just the latest in the state's attempt to offset drastic cuts to higher education -- a trend experts argue is cutting off economic growth at the knees instead of providing a sustainable public university model.

At CSU the consequences could be apocalyptic, Straayer says.

"I think there's a moral obligation that we're simply ignoring here in Colorado," Straayer asserts, adding that 70 percent of the state legislature has some sort of a degree from a state funded university or college. The educations that have served Colorado's power brokers, he says, are not being passed down to younger generations.

Lawmakers have said shifting the authority to increase tuition to the schools is the only solution as the state plans to cut higher education funding by $300 million next year -- a one-two punch for the already cash-strapped Colorado schools.

Straayer says it's yet another band-aid for an infrastructure that needs reconstructive surgery. "I keep looking for this ground swell or the reemergence of the acknowledgment that public investments are important just like private investments are important," he says. "Now what's my obligation? Screw you, I got mine. I don't think so. Do they have an obligation to take care of the next generation? Sure they do."

But proponents of the new law lifting yearly caps on tuition, which were designed to ensure access for poor and middle class Colorado residents, says the looming tuition hikes aren't the end of the world.

The University of Colorado has promised to offset any drastic increases in tuition with more financial aid for needy students. Coloradans have yet to see this plan in action, which Straayer says could help slow the bleeding, but it gives too much leeway to university presidents to spike revenues at a cost to students.

Though CSU didn't give any similar promises, Straayer believes the university, which takes a large chunk of students at a lower cost than CU, will have to devise a scheme to bring up revenues without shrinking the student body.

"Tuition has got to go up, but who's going to help these families?" he says. "I'm sure they're thinking about that."

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane

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