Last year, tuition at the University of Colorado increased 9.3 percent.
Students and parents are enraged and regents irritated that Chancellor Phil DiStefano’s salary increased from $340,000 to $389,000 over the same time period.
That is a 14 percent raise, not hugely out of line for a chancellor of a major research university who still earns less than most of his peers.
That is also not really the point.
CU President Bruce Benson is right in saying that the university has to compete with other schools for talented faculty and administrators, but a person who commented on the story on the (Boulder) Daily Camera’s website is right, too, in saying, that the salary of the chancellor is not the most significant factor in determining the quality of a student’s education.
CU cannot lowball salary offers for faculty members and expect its programs to rank among the best in the country, but it also cannot price itself out of the market for Colorado students.
This year, CU administrators are proposing another tuition increase, this time for 15.7 percent. That is a two-year increase of 25 percent, part of a series of tuition hikes and add-on fees that have doubled the cost of a CU education in far less than a generation.
Just last week, President Barack Obama said institutions cannot just “jack up tuition every single year.” They can; they have. Obama’s plan to provide more federal funding to help with “college affordability” might make up for reduced state funding, but it does not address actual cost increases. When CU administrators get raises, that is an increase, and it is especially painful when many of Colorado’s workers have not had a pay raise in several years.
As idealists are fond of pointing out, there are many ways to afford a college education, including grants, jobs, loans and big checks from parents. Families are advised to consider education as an investment in a better future. That is advice not well received by unemployed parents whose college-level math skills tell them that with all that brought to bear, their students will graduate with loan burdens they may not be able to repay.
For many, a lower-cost institution is a good choice. Get the prerequisites out of the way at a community college like Southwest Colorado Community College. Attend one of the state’s smaller colleges, such as Fort Lewis College. There are quite a few institutions, in Colorado and beyond, with good degree programs and lower tuition rates than CU’s.
That solves the problem for many individual students, but it does not address the state problem. Colorado benefits in many ways from CU’s presence (and the presence of other institutions of higher learning), including the substantial benefit of a well-educated populace.
An important advantage, though, has been the ability to provide an affordable education to Colorado high school graduates who will benefit from CU’s specific programs and faculty. A strong focus in recent years in not duplicating programs between institutions has meant fewer choices. For many students, CU really is the best place to study – if they can afford to do so.
Benson, DiStefano, regents, legislators and residents all need a solution to the problem of escalating costs. Without one, CU will soon be almost exclusively in the business of providing top grads to other states and other nations.