Lawmakers consider allowing tuition hikes

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DENVER (AP) – State lawmakers are considering giving public universities the freedom to set tuition rates to make up for a looming drop in funding.

Senate Majority Leader John Morse said allowing schools to set tuition without state approval is one idea he and Minority Leader Josh Penry are reviewing to help make up for the loss of money. However, he said it isn’t the only thing they expect to propose.

“We are trying to figure out how do we give the higher education system flexibility that will allow them to survive the budget cuts that are inevitably coming in the next two or three years,” Morse said.

Higher education has been spared deep cuts so far because of federal stimulus dollars. That money will dry up by 2012 and the state isn’t expected to be able to make up the difference.

For example, Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed giving the University of Colorado $159 million in state funding next year and another $35 million in stimulus funds. In 2012, there won’t be any more stimulus money and the state is only expected to give CU $159 million.

Morse said he’s concerned about making a college education inaccessible for most residents.

University of Colorado president Bruce Benson says CU could set aside some money raised by higher tuition to provide financial aid for students who can’t afford it.

“These legislators are going to sit down and fish or cut bait,” Benson said. “Do you want to be a Third World piece of junk or a first-class higher-education institution?”