Colorado Gov. Jared Polis rolled out a plan Tuesday to combat the high cost of college tuition across the state, and in doing so, highlighted Fort Lewis College’s work to help students financially.
Cost-saving steps in the new Roadmap to Containing College Costs and Making College Affordable should allow colleges to pass on savings to students, Polis said.
“Costs have spiraled out of control. ... Students and families are concerned across our state and want reassurance they are getting value for their investment in higher education,” he said.
The proposals released by Polis and the Colorado Department of Higher Education are also aimed at encouraging students to finish their degrees, so they do not leave school without a degree and burdened with debt, Polis said.
“It doesn’t serve anybody when you are not able to get across the finish line,” he said.
The debt students have taken on while earning a degree has risen substantially in recent years.
A January report by New Era Colorado found 733,700 Coloradans have $26.4 billion in outstanding student debt.
The proportion of the cost of higher education degrees paid for by the state has also dropped dramatically, according to a report released this year by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
In fiscal year 2000-01, the state paid 68% of students’ cost for college. By 2016, state funding covered only one-third of the cost, the commission found.
FLC is the most affordable four-year institution in Colorado, but it also has increased tuition in recent years.
The most recent tuition increase was in 2018, when FLC tuition and fees increased 5% up to $9,041. The governor’s plan to reduce higher education costs features short-term steps, such as increasing opportunities for high school students to earn college credit, increasing access to federal aid and creating a dashboard that will provide financial information to help students select colleges.
The state also plans to promote the use of open-access educational materials among colleges to cut the cost of textbooks. Students can spend between $900 to $1,800 for textbooks a year, according to the plan.
More ambitious steps in the plan include restructuring degree programs to give students credit for prior work experiences.
The plan also encourages colleges to look at how to bring down the cost of health care for employees and to transition to renewable energy to bring electricity costs down.
In the long term, the plan aims to pursue innovation that fosters new delivery models for education and strengthens partnerships with industry.
“Truly, institutions of higher education are key drivers of our growth by making sure that we have the workforce that we need to power the private sector,” Polis said.
FLC President Tom Stritikus spoke during the governor’s announcement, outlining how the school has worked to help reduce costs.
FLC has reduced administrative overhead costs, including eliminating two of its five vice president positions in the last 18 months, he said.
The school also rolled out two grant programs to help students financially. The FLC Tuition Promise ensures that students from families earning $60,000 a year or less can go to school tuition-free next fall.
The Skyhawk Emergency Grant fund provides gifts of $200 to $800 to students to help with personal expenses, such as housing and car repairs, to help them stay in school.
Stritikus committed to continuing to make education affordable for students.
“We look forward to the future of innovation and how we do this work well,” he said.