Fort Lewis College tuition for in-state students would not rise next year with the passage of a proposed $121 million boost to higher-education funding announced Tuesday by Gov. Jared Polis.
The combined tuition hold and funding increase – the highest on record – is unprecedented in Colorado and would benefit all state-run four-year colleges, community colleges and universities. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper pioneered the effort in his proposed budget, which Polis accepted on Tuesday as he also announced plans to offer K-12 school districts $227 million to fund full-day kindergarten.
But Polis said that a one-year tuition freeze is not a solution to the rising costs of higher education. He warned that state colleges should not expect future funding boosts without further scrutiny of their budgets.
“That is not a long-term solution for the high costs of higher education,” Polis said. “We need to dig down and identify the cost drivers for higher ed.”
Nonetheless, if approved by the Legislature, the provision will be a boon for FLC’s 3,317 students, whose tuition is among the cheapest in the state. FLC offers the lowest tuition for out-of-state students and the second lowest, after Metro State University in Denver, for in-state students, according the Colorado Department of Education.
In a statement, FLC President Tom Stritikus said the college is grateful for Polis’ support of higher education.
“We are committed to access, excellence, community impact and affordability,” he said. “And the governor’s budget will help us achieve those goals.”
The hold on tuition could also help the college boost enrollment numbers, which have been on the decline since the Great Recession. Last summer, college officials had been bracing for an anticipated nearly 10 percent decrease in enrollment for the 2018-19 academic year. But enrollment numbers held steady because of a higher number of Native American students who receive a tuition waiver that is reimbursed to the college by the state.
The college will be allowed to increase tuition for out-of-state students, which includes the tuition for non-resident Native American students for whom the university is required to waive tuition.
FLC is unique in Colorado for its number of Native American students, which is at an all-time high and accounts for more than a third of the overall student population. The number of Native American students rose 3 percent last year, and to accommodate the increase, the college has asked the state to reimburse about $19 million, a more than $2.2 million increase over the previous year. That money will be provided separately from the governor’s $121 million increase.