Guaranteed Tuition a Guaranteed Distraction

BY WATCHING ADAMS STAFF – 1/19/2016

On November 20th 2015, Adams State University (ASU) Board of Trustees unanimously approved a “guaranteed tuition policy” for on-campus undergraduate students. The University’s press release proudly proclaims that “Adams State is the first and only institution in Colorado to offer guaranteed tuition to on-campus undergraduate students.” President Beverlee McClure and the Board of Trustees represented that it will “make college more affordable and allow students and their families to better plan for expenses. Also, by guaranteeing tuition for four years, this encourages students to stay enrolled full-time and to complete their degrees within four years.”

ASU-Titanic-Tuition

One ASU staff member familiar with the policy has a different view. “In reality, all guaranteed tuition does is freeze one expense item on a student’s bill. Guaranteed tuition does not mean guaranteed fees, guaranteed room, or guaranteed meals. All of these other expenses can, and usually do, increase year to year” they said.

This policy was shared with most ASU staff members on the afternoon of November 19th. Key staff members expected to administer and explain this policy to parents and students were not aware of the policy until hours before a special Board of Trustees meeting was convened to vote on this new policy. An early draft of the policy signed by President McClure shows that the “Office of Primary Responsibility” is designated as “???” even as the university issued a press release about its implementation.

“This seems like more autocratic leadership to me” observed one employee.

Many staff members affected stated that they were not asked for input prior to the announcement of this policy. One said, “had we been asked, ASU administration may have been able to perform a more thorough cost/benefit analysis to this proposed guaranteed tuition policy.”  This failure to be transparent and thoughtful to staff members is reminiscent of the proposed mandatory 15 credit hour policy in the spring of 2015 that was eventually rescinded by President Svaldi after overwhelming student, faculty, and staff opposition in the final weeks of the semester. By then, many students had already decided not to return to ASU or otherwise alter their degree plan decisions.

In the case of guaranteed tuition, it appears that ASU administrators are again attempting to socially engineer students to “finish in four” (years) without exercising the principles of shared governance on campus. Under this policy, staff will have to track, revise, and update approximately 3,000 students’ individual “tuition cap” number moving forward as though it were a specific fixed-rate mortgage.

Despite the term “guaranteed,” tuition can still increase from year to year so freshman entering fall 2017 will have a different tuition rate than freshman entering fall 2016. One staff member speculated, “this could lead to increased confusion for staff, students and parents.”

A review of of the Board of Trustees minutes from November 2015 reveals that the “guarantee” itself is not without a catch. The minutes read: “Returning undergraduate, degree-seeking students enrolled in on campus classes would be guaranteed a locked-in tuition rate adjustment of 2.5% above the current tuition rate for the remaining years, prorated accordingly, based on their entry date per the agreement. New incoming students would be guaranteed a locked-in tuition rate of 5% above the current tuition rate for four years… Trustee Simpson moved to accept the proposed Guaranteed Tuition Policy proposal as discussed, setting fall 2016 tuition rate at a 2.64% increase over the current rate for returning students, and at a 5.3% increase for new incoming students, to be locked-in for four years per the agreement.”

No plan to hire additional staff members has been proposed to help with this increase in workload. This is in addition to a campus workforce with a very slushy hiring freeze that has left many areas of the university stretched thin and increasingly stressed. In fact, “budget concerns” continue to decrease key staff positions in the areas that interact with students on a daily basis. Meanwhile, many administrative positions are paid far more than faculty or staff in proportion to ASU’s peer institutions.

One staff member familiar with the policy said, “What is the truth behind guaranteed tuition? It’s a guaranteed headache. In the long run, it will probably do little to help retain students and have them graduate in four years.” The staff member continued, “the implementation of this policy will be complicated and most students will not understand why their bill is still increasing from year to year if their tuition is advertised as being ‘guaranteed.’”

While policies that have been shown to have a direct correlation with retention—such as dedicated, full-time academic advisors or additional staff members serving students directly—have been presented to senior level administration for years, none have moved past the initial discussion phase. One staff member observed, “this policy, which seemingly came out of nowhere, was presented on November 19th to staff and passed on November 20th by the Board of Trustees. So guaranteed tuition seems like just another example of media manipulation… and right after all the negative publicity about banning critics like former faculty member Danny Ledonne from campus as well as the Extended Studies cheating scandal from a year ago.”

The staff member concluded, “administration was desperate to present a positive press release so guaranteed tuition was passed through without a thoughtful discussion. Adams State is hoping that the public has a short memory and will stop questioning their grossly negligent behavior to instead celebrate this policy that merely creates more work for already overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated staff members.”