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Posted: August 01, 2010

Tuition outlook: Who pays, who saves

Area schools look to give more students a break

Nora Caley

Education_CU_Aug10.jpg

On June 9, Gov. Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 3, which allows governing boards of public colleges and universities to raise tuition up to 9 percent annually from fiscal year 2011 to 2016 without having to seek approval from the Legislature. For an increase of more than 9 percent, an institution would have to seek approval from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
The governor also signed House Bill 1428, which allocates $35 million in funds from CollegeInvest to benefit higher education.

One goal for the bills was to increase funding to schools so they could allocate more money to scholarships and financial aid, according to statements that day by the governor and various legislators. Colorado colleges and universities say they have been working to help students finance their education through new financial-aid programs, discounts and other assistance.
One highly publicized effort came in June, when Colorado State University announced it would offer a tuition discount starting in fall 2011. Undergraduate students who are Colorado residents and whose families earn less than $57,000 a year will pay half CSU's tuition rate. That's a discount of about $2,600 a year available for students at CSU-Pueblo or CSU-Fort Collins. With this Commitment to Colorado program, students who also receive Pell Grants will not have to pay any tuition or fees.

The decades-old Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income students seeking their first bachelor's degree or certain post-baccalaureate degrees related to teaching certification. The amount of the grant is based on several factors, including the amount that the student's family will contribute to his or her education, the cost of tuition, whether the student attends full or part time and whether the student attends for a full academic year or less.

It's not just low-income students who need help financing their education. "We believe we can direct more financial aid to middle-income students," says Ken McConnellogue, associate vice president for university relations for the University of Colorado system. "Students in the low end of the socioeconomic scale tend to get more federal financial aid in the form of Pell Grants. What we feel this will do is make college more affordable for middle-income families."

In 2002, CU generated $38 million in financial aid, compared to $105 million today. Just more than half of that, $55 million, comes from philanthropy. The rest is generated from tuition. "Not this year, but the previous two years were our best fundraising years ever," McConnellogue says. In fiscal year 2008-09, CU generated $134 million in donations, and in fiscal year 2007-08 the system generated $162.5 million.

University of Northern Colorado increased its budget for institutionally funded scholarships and discounts by about $500,000, to $15 million. "We did see a 12 percent increase in students enrolled last year," says Tobias Guzmán, assistant vice president for enrollment management and student access. "By increasing those dollars we were able to help more students."

UNC also relaxed the requirement that first-year students must live on campus. The 2010-2011 residence room and board rates start at about $4,000. "We do believe living on campus is important," Guzmán says. "Studies show higher persistence rates, but when it comes down to it, you look at your pocketbook."

Other new efforts include a payment plan that gives students the option to pay tuition over a six-month or 12-month period at an interest rate of 1.75 percent, instead of writing a large check at the start of the semester. There's the Greeley Promise Scholarship, which began in fall 2009 for students who graduate from high schools in the Greeley-Evans school district. Also new is the First Generation Scholarship of $4,000 for students whose parents have not received a degree from a four-year university.

Centennial-based Jones International University serves a nontraditional student body. "Their average age is 36," says Terry Rawls, vice chancellor of academics. "Many do seek federal financial aid, but many are graduate students, and there aren't the typical grants available that are available to undergraduates."

Jones International University partnered with Douglas County to offer the JIU-Douglas County Educational Foundation Scholarship. The university provided $1 million for 100 scholarships for teachers in the Douglas County school district who want to earn undergraduate or graduate degrees.

At the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, the Kane Family Scholarship, which had its first graduating class this year, comes from the estate of a couple who were ranchers in Fountain. The scholarship pays tuition and fees for up to five years at UCCS or three years at a community college.

Robert Bode, director of financial aid and student employment at UCCS, says new flexibility in the Pell Grants has meant more applications and more grants. Before, Pell Grants were awarded for the year. Now students can apply for the grant for a summer session. "We have almost doubled the Pell Grants, from $5.25 million in 2008-2009 to $9.1 million in 2009-2010," he says. "Part of that is the effect of the economy. We're doing more adjustments for parents during the financial downturn, plus the fact that students are attending in summer as well as fall and spring."

UCCS is also trying to make on-campus jobs available for students. "Students who work on campus who are financially challenged are more likely to graduate than students who work off campus," says chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak. "All our departments schedule the work around the student's schedule. Employers in the community cannot necessarily change your shift around your class schedule." She says 85 percent of UCCS students work.

Mesa State College launched MAVWORKS, a work study program. (MAV refers to the school's mascot, the Mavericks.) "It was for students who couldn't get any need-based financial aid," says Curt E. Martin, director of financial aid. The pilot program last year had a budget of $50,000. "We have a lot of work that needs to be done on campus, so we said we can spend $50,000 to hire one person or hire 50 students. That worked out pretty well." For next year the budget will be $200,000.

Martin says he has been fielding at least twice as many loss-of-income appeals as he would in a normal year. Students who suffer a change in financial circumstance - for example, a parent became unemployed - after they filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can ask the college to adjust their award.

Other schools are also seeing increases in these requests. "This past fall our office saw a 300 percent increase in our Income Adjustments forms," says Cindy Hejl, director of financial aid for Metropolitan State College of Denver. "The forms are a way for students or parents to have us look at their file to review again in case there is a reduction in income."

She adds that Metro disbursed 
$18 million in Pell Grants to 6,560 students in 2008-09, and so far has disbursed $29 million to 8,685 students in 2009-10. The summer Pell Grants have doubled. "We did try and communicate with students who were registered for at least six credits to tell them they might be eligible for more in summer Pell if they decide to register for more than six to eight credits."

Other schools say they haven't launched any new programs, but they do communicate with students about financial aid. "It is definitely a topic of conversation very early in the process," says Vic Davolt, director of admissions for Regis College, which is Regis University's college for the traditional students, the recent high school graduates. "I find that many families are becoming better educated to the fact there are scholarships and financial aid programs available."

Colorado State University's Global Campus, the online university, does not offer the half-off discount that CSU-Pueblo and CSU-Fort Collins will offer. As part of its Commitment to Colorado, CSU-Global offers guaranteed tuition rates for students who are continuously enrolled through graduation. Jenna Langer, CSU-Global's chief operating officer, says students look at the online university, which is in its second year, as a less expensive alternative.

"We started off by keeping tuition rates low," she says. "We don't have student fees. We are pretty discounted if you compare us to other online programs."

Langer says students are finding more ways to save money, such as by buying used textbooks online. Also, they are being strategic about choosing a major. "They are very smart about the investment," she says. "They're making sure that they are earning degrees that help them become employable, not just choosing what looks interesting."
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Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics. She can be reached at noracaley@comcast.net.

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