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CSU-Pueblo’s budget worries part of a national trend

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Revelations over the semester about the present state of Colorado State University-Pueblo have brought what seemed like issues from the past back to the forefront. While administrators insist that the campus is on the road to recovering from recent financial setbacks, elements of both the faculty and students remain skeptical.

Looking nationwide, however, CSU-Pueblo is not alone. Dropping enrollment numbers combined with a slump in public funding prompted Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen to tell the Bloomberg Business Report last year that as much as 50 percent of America’s colleges and universities could shut down in the next 15 years.

The State Higher Education Executive Officers association, a national organization of post-secondary education executives and policy makers, has recorded the phenomenon in its annual State of Higher Education Finance reports.

SHEEO’s 2014 report shows a massive increase in full time enrollment at public institutions pursuant to the Great Recession of 2008, a trend that state and local funding failed to keep up with nationwide. In 2010, the amount of money available per student hit a 25-year low. The only reason that appropriations per student has increased since then is a relative decrease in enrollment beginning in 2013.

To make up for lower funding institutions had to send that cost to the students. Tuition made up 42.7 percent of college revenue in 2014 according to SHEEO, up more than ten percent from 2008, but a tiny step down from the previous year. It has been noted in previous reports that Colorado remained ranked 48 in the U.S. for state funding of higher education throughout.

CSU-Pueblo, in large part, has stood as an example of these sorts of trends, bucking only the national tendency toward skyrocketing tuition costs. While a welcome policy to students, the institution’s Provost Rick Kreminski has commented in the past that a hike in rates to something on par with the rest of the state’s public universities would solve CSU-Pueblo’s financial trouble, but only if it could also maintain enrollment.

The university’s practice of trying to hold down tuition costs is how CSU-Pueblo has kept its enrollment up, though according to the most recent budget documents it has shown dubious results. In the university’s 2015-2016 fiscal year budget adjustments, a 7 percent decrease in revenue from tuition was anticipated.

Pushing to change Colorado’s low national ranking has become a priority of CSU-Pueblo’s administration. President Lesley Di Mare recently commented to students that she is “working really closely with the (state) legislature to make it happen,” though there was no mention of exactly what to expect or when.

Karl Spiecker, vice president of finance and administration at CSU-Pueblo, hinted at the complexity of the politics involved when he explained to students recently that Colorado’s TABOR amendment could make it difficult.

TABOR is a taxpayers bill of rights amendment to the state’s constitution that strictly regulates how the state can levy taxes and adjust its budget, sometimes having an effect on the ability to legislate finances for education of all levels.

Spiecker said opening up opportunities for higher education funding in Colorado would require “in my estimation a constitutional amendment.”

President Di Mare didn’t go so far, but commented that “it takes the community to ensure funding for higher education.”