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over this year’s $1,887) to $1,486, plus the face value of the
voucher, bringing total tuition to $5,486 if the voucher is
worth $4,000.
• Role andMission Grants. These grants would
supplement the tuition money received by the institutions
to make up for any loss in state funding as a result of the
new funding mechanism. The amounts were not specified
in the legislation, but models circulated with the blue ribbon
panel report showed that the three state colleges (Adams
State College in Alamosa, Mesa State College in Grand
Junction, andWestern State College in Gunnison) would
receive $2.8 million to help keep those rural campuses afloat.
The state’s two research institutions, CU and Colorado State
University, would secure $85 million and $57 million, and the
community colleges would get no grant, receiving all of their
funding in tuition.
• Universities get Tuition Flexibility. In another feature
of the plan that is not spelled out in the bill itself, existing
state law would allow campuses to become “enterprises” if
the portion of their budgets coming from the state’s general
fund falls below ten percent. CU and CSU predict they
will be able to go this route almost immediately, thereby
liberating them fromTABOR restrictions. But Colorado State
University President Al Yates worried about a lawsuit or other
impediment. And state Senator Ron Tupa (D-Boulder) was
introducing another bill that would grant enterprise status
without vouchers.
That last feature, TABOR exemption, explains why the
state’s two research universities back the proposal. “Why
would the flagship research institution in the state be in favor
of this program? My feeling is that when we’re raising most
of the money to run this institution, we need the flexibility
to price our tuition at the market rate,” said University of
Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman. Plus, she said, “If this
becomes something that families across the state care about
like K–12 funding, it will be harder to cut.”
By the time it was introduced onMarch 20, the proposal
had garnered significant attention, with positive editorials
from the state’s two largest newspapers and support from
the higher education CEOs as well as the Colorado Student
Association. Though its introduction was repeatedly delayed
as the bill underwent a series of revisions, it hit the House
floor with 39 sponsors—five more than needed to clear the
House.
Still, the bill’s future was far from certain. With only six
weeks remaining in the session, it needed to clear several
committees whose members had not signed on as sponsors.
And its key benefits for higher education—guaranteed
funding floors and tuition flexibility—left austerity-minded
legislators wary of creating an entitlement and writing higher
education a blank check.
“If [King] pleases us and the Democrats on this, he’s going
to make the fiscal conservatives angry,” said RyanMcMaken,
executive director of the student association. “If he pleases
the fiscal conservatives, we’re going to bail. Everywhere you
look, there’s a coalition waiting to kill the bill. It’s a pretty wild
situation at this point.” CU’s Hoffman wasn’t much more
optimistic: “It’s not even worth doing if they don’t fully fund
the vouchers.”
If it does pass, the proposal’s
success in increasing college
participation among low-income
and minority students will depend
largely on whether the blue ribbon
panel was correct in its prediction
that the savings accounts will
entice more students to attend
college. While community college
tuition will decrease, the scheme
allows for increases at the four-year
institutions—especially if they
achieve enterprise status. Students could be looking at very
high numbers. If CU-Boulder’s undergraduate tuition next
year reaches $3,910, as expected, that figure could increase
another five percent plus the $4,000 amount of the voucher
for a total tuition of $8,105 in 2004-05, the first year of the
program.
Some researchers, including one who presented his
findings to the panel, say that students are turned off by such
high sticker prices. “The piece that they’re ignoring is that,
particularly for low-income students, these students tend to
be more influenced by changes in price than by changes in
financial aid,” said Donald Heller, associate professor at the
Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania
State University. “I would expect that $4,000 increase in price
to have more of a negative impact on the probability that a
low-income student would enroll than would the offsetting
The voucher plan’s success depends on getting accurate information to every high
school freshman, says Tim Foster, executive director of the Colorado Commission
on Higher Education.
While Colorado’s
population mushroomed
by more than 30 percent
in the 1990s, college
enrollment grew by just
under ten percent.