DENVER –Colorado college students are paying more for tuition even with the decrease of a lawmaker-approved stipend program to fund students instead of institutions, according to an audit released Monday.
The audit said the last recession “created some barriers” to the implementation of the College Opportunity Fund program, which took effect in 2006. The program’s goal was not to decrease tuition costs, but it changed the state’s funding mechanism so students attending in-state schools got a stipend when they enrolled at a school, rather than those funds going to colleges.
Since 2006, stipend amounts for students have decreased as the state has struggled to balance budgets during the bad economy, the audit found.
At the same time, enrollment has grown, and the stipend amounts have not kept up with inflation.
The stipend amount for students per credit hour went from $80 in 2006 to $62 in 2011. With lower stipends, the average tuition amount during that time went from about $6,660 to $8,530.
The state spent $272 million in 2006 on the stipends, and $269 million in 2011. At the same time, the number of full-time students eligible for money who were enrolled at state colleges went from about 115,500 to 142,760, an increase of about 24 percent, auditors said.
Lawmakers approved legislation in 2004 to create the College Opportunity Fund program to motivate more students to attend college, by showing them the investment the state was making.
State officials anticipated an aggressive marketing effort to make students aware of the stipend, which they have to apply for, said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who is also the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
“I think it fell flat a little bit because, again, what students looked at was, ‘But what you’re saying is I still pay the same tuition I paid before?’” Garcia said.
Garcia said that changing the funding mechanism also meant colleges would not have tuition revenue count against them under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The law limits government revenue and spending.
Auditors said the state Department of Higher Education, because of budgetary constraints, has not made budget requests that reflect how much it needs for the stipend amounts to reflect inflation and enrollment growth, as the law requires.
Garcia said his department will follow the auditors’ recommendation to submit budgets to lawmakers that reflect amounts needed for the stipend. But he said there’s simply not enough money available.
“We will submit, for the General Assembly’s information, a budget request that reflects enrollment growth and inflation, knowing full well that the General Assembly will not be able to fund it at that level,” he said.