Tuition increases are likely for CU Boulder students as the university tries to get ahead of declining enrollment and other budgetary challenges. Credit: Ken Lund

This article was originally published on the CU Independent.

The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents is considering raising tuition for incoming graduate and undergraduate students, after the next fiscal year’s plans were introduced at the board’s meeting on Feb. 9.

Regents are discussing a proposed 4% increase in new student tuition at CU Boulder to get ahead of declining enrollment rates and several other “budgetary challenges” that university leaders say could cause shortfalls going forward.

Glen 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 seen slightly increased enrollment since the pandemic, with attendance above pre-2020 levels this academic year. Now, officials expect attendance to decline by .7% in the coming semester.

Chad Marturano, chief financial officer for the university system, described the tuition increase 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, including rising costs due to inflation, pressures to raise wages and declining enrollment. 

The Boulder campus specifically raised budget shortfall concerns because of a growing backlog of maintenance issues, rising costs associated with healthcare, and the push to upgrade technological infrastructure on campus.

“There’s a lot of challenges we’re wrestling with,” Marturano said.

Officials cited inadequate state funding as a major budgetary concern. The state government could allocate anywhere from an additional 6.3% to 13.8% in funding for the coming fiscal year. 

Raising tuition would have some benefits for university community members, according to Marturano. The extra revenue would 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.

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 2021 saw the university’s numbers rebound to 2019 levels, a trend that continued in 2022.

Officials say they don’t expect this trend to continue.

At CU Boulder, undergraduate student enrollment is expected to decrease by 0.2% in 2023-24, while graduate student enrollment could be down by as much as 2.5%. Overall, officials expect enrollment to decline by about 0.7% next academic year.

The increase in enrollment this school year made the University of Colorado, and CU Boulder, an outlier. A study published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) last September showed enrollment in higher education institutions declined across the country for the fifth straight semester.

The study said that while the decline in enrollment wasn’t as steep as pandemic-era drops, it is a cause for concern for some universities because their funding models are built on increased numbers of students every year.

CU Boulder’s chief operating officer, Patrick O’Rourke, said in a university release that 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.”

Fewer incoming international students and in-state residential students are also reasons for the decline in 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 in the Colorado State 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.

Henry Larson was a summer 2022 reporting fellow at Boulder Reporting Lab. He was the editor-in-chief of the CU Independent, the University of Colorado Boulder’s digital student news outlet. His reporting has also appeared in CPR News and The Daily Camera.

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