June 17, 2010

 

Colorado State is a land-grant university. CSU came into existence as part of President Abraham Lincoln’s dream to make a great college education available to every American with the ability and motivation to earn a degree, regardless of socioeconomic class, and use it to make a difference in our world. And we believe Lincoln’s dream is every bit as alive and vibrant today as when it was signed into law in 1862.

To help preserve that land-grant access mission, today we’re announcing Colorado State University’s Commitment to Colorado: If you’re a Colorado student whose family income is $57,000 or less, we will provide financial aid such that, without the need for loans, you won’t pay more than half the tuition at Colorado State University. And if you’re from a lower income (Pell Grant Eligible) family, you won’t pay standard tuition or general fees to attend CSU.

CSU’s Commitment to Colorado is our way of stating, unequivocally, that we will not back away from our land-grant commitment to excellent education that is affordable for all Coloradans.

Why are we doing this?

The Governor and State of Colorado have approved Senate Bill 3 to give our state’s colleges and universities greater flexibility to set tuition in accordance with the market. In doing so, they have also recognized that there is a significant statewide concern about keeping higher education affordable and accessible for all Colorado residents. In fact, as I’ve traveled across the state, there’s generally only one negative sentiment that I hear: that tuition has increased so rapidly — far in excess of inflation. People legitimately wonder why we can’t better control our costs.

As president of Colorado State University, I’m fortunate to be able to reply that our universityhas contained its costs. We’ve had no choice. Over the past two decades, the amount we receive in total to educate an undergraduate student has actually decreased by 4% in inflation adjusted dollars.

What has changed is where this money comes from. We’re now serving — each and every year — 2,000 more students than we did 10 years ago, but the funding the state gives us to educate each of those students has declined. Twenty years ago, the State of Colorado funded around two-thirds of a college education for its residents, whereas today that burden has inverted, with individual families paying roughly two-thirds the cost of a college degree.

Those statements are not meant to indicate that Colorado fails to understand the importance of public higher education: Our elected representatives have never had greater challenges in managing the state’s fiscal crisis. They understand — as we do — the increasing importance of education and research to remain competitive in the global knowledge economy and the role of research universities as the economic engines of Colorado’s future. They rightly worry — as do we — about access and affordability and the future of Colorado. Within this context, we at CSU have worked hard to contain costs so we could keep our tuition rates affordable for Colorado families.

And we’ve largely succeeded: CSU’s average student debt remains well below the national average, and our percent of first-generation students and students from low-income families remains high and increasing. We are experiencing our third year in a row of record enrollment. All of this is a testament to the reasonable cost of a CSU education, where tuition and fees for a year, including everything except books and living expenses, is $6,300. With four full years of food, living expenses, and books, the all-in cost of a bachelor’s degree — without any financial aid — is less than $80,000. A year at CSU costs about what Colorado families pay for a year and a half of day care for a toddler. A four-year degree from CSU is about the price of two years of tuition at a private university, or two years in a Colorado correctional facility.

And we know, as well, that an investment in a college education is an investment that halves the rate of unemployment and increases a person’s lifetime earnings dramatically, typically beginning with that first starting salary right out of college. A graduate with a bachelor’s degree will pay nearly $275,000 more in state and federal taxes that come back to Colorado than someone with a high-school diploma, repaying the state’s investment in that college degree in less than four years. For the state of Colorado, higher education is a long-term revenue center, not a cost center, and the importance of education and research to remain competitive in the global knowledge economy will only increase.

But we also have to acknowledge that even this investment in CSU’s reasonable tuition is hard for many working families, particularly those making less than the state’s median family income of $57,000 a year and those with several students in college at the same time. We know that there are still far too many people in Colorado who are giving up on their dreams of education because of the price. And we believe the price of our product matters here and now — especially in a competitive educational marketplace.

We also are concerned about the future of our state. Access to a strong state-wide system of higher education is more important to our economy today than ever before. Colorado already has the largest gap in the nation in Hispanic students graduating from high school and going on to college, a statewide challenge with significant economic and societal implications. We know that Colorado has staked much of its future on a clean-energy economy that will require exactly the kinds of education CSU provides — graduating more state students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics than any other Colorado campus. And we know that CSU-based research and graduates have contributed — and will continue to contribute — in substantial ways to job creation and economic vitality in communities statewide.

Why now, when we’re cutting our budgets and operating in the tightest fiscal environment in memory? Because we have worked hard to contain our costs as an institution, because through internal reallocation and the Campaign for Colorado State University we’ve invested heavily in financial aid, and because Colorado State prioritizes distribution of our resources around our mission. There is no more essential element of our mission than assuring that all Colorado students who are admitted to their state’s research university can afford to attend.

We recognize the fiscal challenges that face our great state and we acknowledge that increasing costs for families with the ability to pay is likely a part of the short-term education funding solution. But with the Commitment to Colorado, we reaffirm Lincoln’s dream and the basic American premise that merit trumps status and class. In doing so, we make sure tomorrow’s leaders from the eastern plains, the urban corridor, the San Luis Valley, and the Western Slope won’t find the doors of opportunity closed because short term fiscal policy carried the day over the long-term value of letting them develop their potential to the benefit of us all.

Commitment to Colorado web site