The University of Northern Colorado’s budget woes have been well-known for some time, but the university’s board of trustees have taken increasingly drastic measures in an effort to prevent total collapse. Past measures have included reducing financial aid and laying off professional staff, but during a finance and audit committee meeting in February, President Andy Feinstein announced further plans.
“I believe it’s clear that we need to raise tuition,” Feinstein said.
The causes behind UNC’s financial issues are just as numbered and varied as the proposed solutions. Many like to point to the construction of the new Campus Commons as the root of the problem, but UNC’s deficit goes all the way back to 2010. The Campus Commons represents only 18% of a debt caused by a fatal combination of new housing and dining facilities and declining enrollment, meaning there’s no one to fill them.
UNC’s declining enrollment has been stirring trouble for years, but it has only been worsened by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, first-time freshman enrollment dropped by one quarter. Overall enrollment dropped by 11 percent. While applications for the coming year have dramatically increased, the size of the application pool has not. More students are applying to more colleges, but can only pick one.
Because of all these factors, UNC has had to turn to more drastic cost-cutting measures. Reductions in faculty and staff have meant many people have lost their livelihoods. During a round of budget cuts last year, many members of UNC’s school of music spoke up in favor of professional staff members like Kelsey Shiba. The outcry against that move was intense, but UNC still moved forward with it.
In September of 2020, UNC announced further plans to reduce tuition discounting. Tuition discounting, more commonly known as financial aid, provides many students with opportunities to attend UNC and study the subjects they love. In 2020, a year’s tuition without financial aid averaged out to $9,986.
Trustee Steve Jordan, who previously served as president of Metro State University, spoke up in support of cutting tuition discounting. Jordan said during his tenure at Metro that there was no tuition discounting offered at all, and was surprised to learn that since his departure it has started being offered.
“You held the line for as long as you could,” Feinstein joked.
But not only is UNC planning on reducing financial aid, it’s also intending to raise tuition rates.
The finance and audit committee found that even with a 7 percent increase in tuition, UNC would remain the fifth cheapest university in the state. UNC is well known for being affordable, but the legacy of its current board of trustees will be harder to determine.
“I certainly didn’t come to UNC to be the president known for just cutting budgets. I came here to support the successful attainment of all of our students’ ambitions and dreams,” Feinstein said in the finance and audit committee meeting.
Whether or not that will be true remains to be seen.