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to say that we will provide access but only to a portion of the
system of higher education,” said Yates. “The message could
come out that if I’m a low-income student my only entry point
to the system of higher education is the community college.
There are many students for whom the appropriate route is
the four-year institutions.”
Ed Romero, a Denver marketing and advertising executive
who served on the blue ribbon panel, thinks that students
with the background for four-year schools will not be deterred
under the plan. “This is about a lot of kids who don’t go to
college at all,” he said. “I pressed this very hard to use the
community colleges as a point of access. The big schools
resent that.”
Joe May shares that perspective. “Right now we have a
large part of the population simply not going anywhere,” he
said. “To provide an opportunity that increases the likelihood
that they will attend college somewhere is better in the long
run, for them, their
families and the state.”
May’s counterpart
at CU, Betsy Hoffman,
seemed not to be
waiting for the bill to
sail through. Alarmed
by predictions of drastic
budget cuts, Hoffman
held a press briefing
in mid-February
highlighting the already
dismal funding her
university receives—and
noting that the Boulder campus had already reached the ten
percent threshold, and that she could apply for enterprise
status even without vouchers.
“I think a lot of students already
know they’re receiving a state
subsidy, and they’ll be turned off
at a higher tuition. This is kind
of like a shell game.”
—CU-Boulder student leader
Michael Donnelly
Colorado’s Voucher Program
July 2008
olorado’s higher education voucher plan—the only
one in the nation—has been less than a resounding success so far.
Many of the goals of the program, described in
spring 2003 issue, have not been met:
• One aimwas to increase participation by low-income students;
instead, enrollment of these students has declined eight percent, the
Colorado Department of Higher Education has reported.
• Another goal was to increase enrollment in public higher
education, but total enrollment has remained about the same since
the program began in fall 2005. Two years later, the numbers were
up slightly in four-year institutions but had declined in the two-year
community colleges.
• Student financial aid has remained at about the national average.
• Implementation at Colorado’s 15 two-year community colleges
has been especially difficult. Many students don’t enroll until just before
classes begin, so there has not been enough time to inform them about
the availability of vouchers.
• State reimbursement for vouchers has been slow, officials report.
“The philosophy of ‘the money should follow the student’ has not held
true,” Nancy McCallin,
president of the Colorado
Community College
System, told the
Mountain News
in the
spring of 2008.
• Although legislation
to implement what is
officially known as the
College Opportunity Fund
removed public colleges
and universities from the
spending restrictions of
the state’s Taxpayers Bill of
Rights (TABOR), this has
not resulted in the increased
revenue that many college officials had expected.
Escaping from TABOR limits “did not provide the tuition
flexibility that institutions were seeking,” said David Longanecker,
executive director of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher
Education (WICHE).
“It became very clear that the governor and the legislature
were not going to take
their hands off tuition
(policy),” said Paul
Lingenfelter, president of
the State Higher Education
Executive Officers. Despite
these restraints, however,
the University of Colorado’s
flagship campus in Boulder
was able to raise tuition 23.9
percent in two years.
Bruce Benson,
president of the University
of Colorado system, said “a
drop in the voucher amount
also hurt.” Initially expected
to be between $4,000 and
$4,500 per student, the
voucher was worth only
$2,760 in 2007.
Voucher supporters
say the state has done a poor job of informing prospective students
about the availability of the stipends. They also charge that the
program has been poorly managed.
“A lot of our institutions don’t believe it was implemented in
the way that was intended,” said David Skaggs, executive director
of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “The question is
whether that’s the fault of the theory or the fault of implementation.”
To answer that and other voucher questions, Skaggs’
department has commissioned a WICHE study, to be completed
by spring 2009. That means significant changes in the voucher
program are not likely to be made until 2010, if then.
—William Trombley
Voucher supporters say
the state has done a
poor job of informing
prospective students
about the availability of
the stipends, and that
the program has been
poorly managed.
One goal of the
program was to
increase participation
by low-income
students, but
enrollment of these
students has declined
eight percent, while
financial aid has
remained at about
the national average.