Balanced with major savings from new textbook program, net impact of increase in associate-level tuition minimal or positive

 The Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees took an unheard-of step at their board meeting at the college’s Vail Valley campus in Edwards Wednesday by voting to decrease in-district tuition for bachelor’s-level courses by $19 per credit hour. The trustees also voted to increase tuition for in-district associate-level courses by $15 per credit hour in the 2018-19 year, which is largely offset by drastically cutting textbook costs for students through a new book rental program. The vote on tuition rates was 6-1.

“We are unaware of any public college that has ever chosen to voluntarily reduce tuition, and hope that this tuition cut reflects a good faith effort to meet the long-term needs of students and demonstrate prudent financial management,” said Matt Gianneschi, the college’s chief operating officer.

Even before the 23 percent cut in tuition for bachelor’s-level courses, the college has been named by the U.S. Department of Education as having the third-most-affordable bachelor’s degree in the country.

“Everyone on the board is very sensitive to the impact of tuition and other related educational costs on our students,” said Patty Theobald, chair of the CMC Board of Trustees. “We hope that by equalizing tuition rates for lower-level and upper-level courses, students will better be able to complete a bachelor’s degree. We want students to know that the college is their partner to help them find federal and state financial aid grants and scholarship opportunities from the CMC Foundation.”

The college has been working for several years toward bringing together tuition for associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees, rather than having two separate rates. When bachelor’s degrees were originally implemented at CMC, their tuition rate was set higher because the state didn’t allow the college to use state funding to support those new degrees, but that is no longer the case. Trustees noted that by keeping bachelor’s degrees affordable, students have a greater incentive to complete a four-year degree.

Cuts in bachelor’s-level courses for 2018-19 are $19 per credit hour for in-district students, $35 for service-area students and $32 for in-state students, with a $13 increase for out-of-state students. Tuition increases in associate-level courses are $15 for in-district, $27 for service area, $33 for in-state and $13 for out-of-state students.

However, because the college is instituting a new textbook leasing program in the fall that will greatly reduce students’ textbook costs, the net increase in the cost of attending college for in-district associate students will be only 1 percent, while in-district students taking bachelor’s-level courses will save 23 percent on overall net costs.

In fact, the net cost to students taking bachelor’s-level courses will decrease by 18-23 percent compared to current costs, for all but out-of-state students (who will see no impact on their costs for tuition and books combined).

Average annual textbook costs for full-time students are $1,200-$1,600 per year, according to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, while CMC expects its new textbook program to cost a full-time student a maximum of $780 per year.

Tuition that is closer to covering the cost of education will help cover reduced property tax funding due to the Gallagher amendment, as well as mitigate the effect of inflation on the college’s operating costs. Through budget cuts the college has already absorbed more than $2 million in ongoing cuts to property tax funding due to the Gallagher amendment, and anticipates that in 2019-20 that permanent cut could reach an additional $3.9 million.

In light of the Gallagher amendment’s very serious and ongoing threats to all local governments and special districts in rural Colorado, the board of trustees reinforced its commitment to finding a long-term solution to the constitutional conundrum. “We have to continue the conversation about the detrimental impact of the Gallagher amendment on our rural communities,” said Ken Brenner, trustee from Steamboat Springs and chair of the audit committee. “While students need to meaningfully participate in the financing of their education, we should not simply pass on revenue cuts caused by the Gallagher amendment to our students. That’s an unsustainable path forward.”

Yesenia Arreola, Upward Bound director at the college’s Rifle campus, attended the meeting as a participant in CMC’s leadership training program, LIFT. She said, “Particularly if students pursue the incredible financial aid grants and scholarships available to them, for not only tuition and books but living expenses, Colorado Mountain College remains a great value and the new rates will result in no harm to financially needy students. CMC has been so affordable that some students are surprised to find such excellent quality here. We know when students come to CMC they will be taken care of financially.”

Trustees heard in the meeting that through the college’s 50th anniversary Finish What You Started scholarship for students returning after being out of college, $70,000 was awarded to 150 students. In addition, $100,000 in President’s Scholarships are being awarded to 100 local students per year.  In addition, the Colorado Mountain College Foundation has awarded an average of 316 scholarships each year for the past three years, totaling just under $3 million.

In other action at the meeting, trustees voted unanimously to eliminate a course fee for the Isaacson School for New Media and approved a photography program fee of $250 per semester. No changes were made to mandatory student fees for 2018-19.

Trustees also voted 6-0 to increase residence hall rates by 3.5 percent (single occupancy) to 5 percent (double occupancy), adjustments consistent with inflation.

The trustees accepted quarterly financials, as well as a recommendation to make it easier for the public to see on the college website when and where board meetings will be held. They unanimously approved minor updates to the college’s concurrent enrollment and admissions policies.

Trustees heard that the Leadville Urban Renewal Authority has designated its downtown area as “blighted” and therefore proposed adoption of an urban renewal plan. As part of a statutory urban renewal process, trustees were asked to enter into an agreement with the Leadville Urban Renewal Authority, allowing the authority to retain incremental increases in property tax gained through tax increment financing over the next 25 years.

Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, was in Eagle County and stopped by to address the trustees.