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Tuition remains looming threat


Illustration: Madalyn Drewno – CU Denver

Every school year, many students across campus will do a double take upon glancing at their tuition bills and wonder, “Why doesn’t the tuition rate stay the same?”

Indeed, the tuition rate changes due to economic factors outside of the institution itself, such as the housing crisis in 2007-2008 and the subsequent recession. According to senior policy analysts in higher education at New America, a policy research center in Washington, D.C., inflation accounts for about 1-4 percent of a tuition increase. Yet during the recession and the decade that followed, in-state tuition rates leapt from an average of $6,468 during the 2007-2008 academic year to a staggering $10,691 during the 2017-2018 academic year. That is a 65 percent jump in just 10 years.

Another factor that accounts for the constant shift in students’ bills are  student fees. CU Denver charges students for every individual feature that comes with attending the school. A detailed breakdown of the tuition is not necessarily a bad thing; some students, especially those that are not paying with student loans, like to see what exactly they are being charged for. Each year the prices of certain features of campus are adjusted to make up for inflation, or compensate for increased prices on specific resources, meaning the final bill at the end of the semester will look a little different each time. In fact, the only consistency in the tuition seems to be the price going up each semester.

The reason for having a tuition statement that reads like an itemized bill at a hotel where the mini-fridge candy bars cost $8 boils down to the chief obstruction in most large institutions: bureaucracy. The university, through entities such as the Board of Regents, fights to keep costs as low as possible by looking for the most cost-effective means for supplies and resources. Many of the computer and media labs on campus were established through grants. The furniture in the recording studios used by Recording Arts majors were obtained through a program CU Denver participates in that purchases furniture build by federal inmates held in penitentiaries in Colorado.

However, these decisions to keep costs low have potential drawbacks. If every single item used on campus is outsourced to a different organization or company, it can take months to approve a request as simple as ordering more chairs. Each item or resource has a different form, a different department, or different third-party organization that has to be met with in order to get what is needed. This also suggests that initiating budgetary changes takes more time and moves a lot slower.

CLAS recently approved the request for an additional lab technician to help prepare solutions used in the Microbiology department. Students representing each department weighed in on the decision, and almost all voted to add another staff member. The Biology department requested $28,000; spread over the entire student body, this $28,000 can easily be achieved by charging each student an additional twenty-nine cents. Twenty-nine cents may not seem like much, especially considering the i-lov-iT Marketplace in the Tivoli Student Union Building charges 25 cents for a set of plastic silverware. Yet, if multiple departments submit requests, these costs can add up quickly.

For example, several semesters ago, students at CU Denver voted on whether they would want the Wellness Center, which would have added costs to their student fees but would also serve as an alternative for students who could not afford a gym membership. Luke Begley, a Recording Arts major, voted for the construction of the Wellness Center even though he will graduate before its completion. Begley voted for the Wellness Center because, “It really didn’t add much to my tuition, maybe a couple of bucks. And yeah, I won’t be able to use it, but other students will and honestly, I don’t mind chipping in to make this campus even better,” Begley said.

Begley, who will graduate in the Spring of 2018, recounts the struggles he has witnessed firsthand in improving the Recording Arts program. “Our music school is definitely more focused on contemporary styles and technologies, while CU Boulder is more of a conservatory,” Begley said. Begley’s brother, Zak, graduated in 2016 from CU Boulder with a degree in Opera. While he attended Boulder, he noticed that the music school is far more focused on classical training than embracing innovation in the music industry. CU Boulder does not have a music business program; in fact, outside of performing arts and music education, there really aren’t many opportunities.

Luke, however, asserts that CU Denver’s music school is much stronger. “They teach you stuff that will actually get you hired,” Begley said. “I haven’t even graduated yet and I’ve already landed gigs doing sound at concert venues. CU Denver teaches us skills that will actually matter out there.” Yet further improvements to the department are impeded by the struggle to actually get any needs met.

The College of Arts and Media here at CU Denver is a member of an organization that standardizes music education across the nation, including famed conservatories such as Juilliard and Oberlin. Yet, CU Denver’s crowning jewel is not necessarily providing conservatory-level training for its students; the College of Arts and Media has gained more popularity for its immersive Media and Entertainment Industry Studies program and the hands-on training experience it provides for students. “I would rather we got rid of that membership, since our school doesn’t really attract that many people who want to go to a conservatory,” said Luke. “It would be so much better if we could use that money for more studios or something.” Unnecessary spending on underutilized programs like this instance contribute to the increasing tuition rates.

CU Boulder recently introduced a tuition lock for in-state students. The school has had a tuition lock in place for out-of-state students, since their tuition is already tremendously high, as a way of maintaining retention in its student body. This means that when a student decides to attend CU Boulder, their tuition will remain the same from freshman year until they graduate. By locking tuition, many students are relieved from a massive and stressful burden and can focus on their studies more. One former student, who wishes  to remain anonymous, had to leave school because the cost became simply unaffordable. “I would have liked to stay and finish my degree,” they said. “My mom doesn’t have good credit, so I can’t apply for student loans. At first, I was able to afford the tuition, I had some money in my savings and my grandparents helped my mom and I out. But the price just kept going up and up until we just couldn’t afford it anymore. I had to leave school to work full-time, but I’m hoping to go back once I have a little more cash at hand,” they said.

Roger Williams University, located in Rhode Island, decided to implement a lock on tuition in 2012 and, as a result, watched its enrollment climb seven percent between 2012-2014. Similarly, the university also saw its retention rates rise in 2013 from 78 percent to 84 percent.

The ever-proliferating tuition proves challenging for students to work around, especially because many students rely on FAFSA to help pay the bill. If a student doesn’t receive enough money through FAFSA to cover the entire balance, it can cause a scramble for money during a time when a student would be preparing for finals at the end of the term. This ultimately proves to be a distraction for students during a time when maintaining focus on schoolwork is vital.  

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