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$4,000 voucher.”
CU-Boulder student leader Michael Donnelly, a senior
finance major, opposes the plan for that reason. “I think a lot
of students already know they’re receiving a state subsidy, and
they’ll be turned off at a higher tuition,” he said. “This is kind
of like a shell game.”
Tim Foster, Executive Director of CCHE, said the panel’s
conclusions were influenced by focus groups showing clearly
that such a plan would appeal to low-income students and
perhaps even reduce the high school dropout rate. “The
interesting dynamic is that you convert the state subsidy
to their money,” said Foster. “It increases their stake. It’s a
psychological sea change.”
Foster acknowledged that success will be contingent on
how well the program is marketed: “You have to explain
to every freshman in every high school that they have this
opportunity.” Foster’s best-case scenario: Within four years,
Colorado will rise to the top quintile of states in college
participation.
But even the best-case scenario poses dilemmas: The
more successful the plan is at expanding enrollment, the
greater the burden it would
place on state resources. Unless
more funds become available for
higher education, the face value
of the vouchers could become
depressed. The safety valve for
higher education is designed
to be TABOR liberation, but
without TABOR, tuition at some
of the four-year institutions could
become prohibitively expensive—
leading Longanecker and other
higher education finance experts
to say the plan can not work
without a boost in financial aid dollars.
“The Achilles heel of this whole proposal is if you allow the
universities to raise tuition, but there’s not a corresponding
increase in financial aid, the whole proposal will fail,” said
Tupa. “I don’t want to see this proposal mask the fact that the
state of Colorado provides a pitiful amount of assistance for
needy kids. For me to support legislation like this, there needs
to be a corresponding increase in financial aid from the state
of Colorado.”
In response, CU’s Hoffman says she is committed to
plowing a significant proportion of any tuition increases into
financial aid—about one-third on the Boulder campus and
25 percent at CU’s other campuses in Colorado Springs and
Denver. Colorado State University President Al Yates predicts a
number closer to 15 percent at CSU.
Yates lobbied hard to ensure that any state financial aid
dollars freed up because of the decreased community college
tuition would be available to the four-year sector, and that
was reflected in an amendment to the bill. CCHE had no
projections, however, as to whether it will cover tuition
increases. Nor did Joe May, chancellor of the 13-campus
community college system. “We’ve not been able to run any
models to look at the savings,” he said.
While most public universities offer institutional aid,
research has shown that it is less effective than statewide
programs. “The biggest disadvantage is that it’s not as visible
or predictable. You never know what you’ll have when you
jump through the admissions hoop,” said Paul Lingenfelter,
executive director of the Denver-based group, State Higher
Education Executive Officers. “The second disadvantage is
that, at the institutional level, the typical practice is for merit
and need to get blended. Schools look at students’ academic
ability, their athletic ability, and tuition discounting comes into
play. If your primary consideration for a certain pot of money
is to meet the need of students with limited resources, it will
be more visible and have a greater impact and be used more
effectively if it’s at the state level.”
CCHE’s Foster, a believer in need-based aid, said he
was hard-pressed to increase funding in the current budget
climate. One proposal emerging from the legislature’s joint
budget committee in late March would have increased the
state’s $51 million expenditure for need-based financial aid by
ten percent, while eliminating the $10.5 million in aid (need-
and merit-based) currently available for the state’s private and
proprietary institutions.
The latter proposal would have placed Colorado among
a handful of states supplying no financial aid to private
university students, and University of Denver President Dan
Ritchie and others were fighting it vigorously. On top of public
university stipends, the loss of need-based aid would mean
a “double whammy” for DU and other privates, said Toni
Larson, a lobbyist for independent institutions.
Even some public institution leaders were expressing
reservations about the voucher plan, chief among themAl
Yates, who will step down as Colorado State president this
summer. His main concern was whether the plan would end
up tracking minority students into the community colleges.
“I wonder about the message we send to the people of our
state when we institute a policy that seems on the face of it
“I don’t want to see this
proposal mask the fact
that the state of Colorado
provides a pitiful amount of
assistance for needy kids.
—Colorado state Senator
Ron Tupa
State Senator Ron Tupa believes the voucher plan will work only if adequate
financial aid is made available to Colorado students.