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for the Study of Education Policy
at Illinois State University.
By then, voters had delivered
yet another punch in the form
of Amendment 23, passed in
2000, which required a basic
level of state funding for public
elementary and secondary
education, plus annual increases.
No sooner did public schooling
become another mandate, like
Medicaid, than the recession
took hold, driving available
state revenue down. And so,
saidHank Brown, president of
the three-campus University
of Colorado system, “The state
was left with no option but to
take all of the cuts out of higher
education,” its largest pot of
discretionary cash.
Come 2003-04, after back-
to-back annual cuts of nine percent and 14 percent, the state
was supporting its public colleges and universities with roughly
the same amount of money as it had eight years earlier—for an
enrollment that meanwhile had increased 19 percent. A year
later, higher education’s share of the state’s budget had shrunk
to ten percent from20 percent in 1990.
Colorado higher education officials describe this as a
period of severe retrenchment.They coped only by increasing
class sizes, cutting academic offerings, curtailing faculty and
staff hiring and raises, covering more classes with part-time
teachers, and deferring maintenance. “Our physical plant was
left to rot in the gorgeous Colorado sun,” lamented professor
Straayer of Colorado State.
Then-Governor Bill Owens responded to the crisis inmid-
2001 by appointing a “blue ribbon” panel of legislators, citizens
and representatives of higher education
to rethink the state’s approach to higher
education funding.
A year and a half later the panel came
forth with a proposal to fund students
instead of institutions. Doing that, the
group contended, would “help to encourage
increased access for students from the lowest
income levels and would increase higher
education participation for all students.”This
market-like approach “would lead to greater
responsiveness by all institutions to students’
needs, and would increase flexibility to allow
for world-class institutions in this state.”
Specifically, the panel proposed a student “stipend”
that would be worth $133 per credit hour for an in-state
undergraduate and $267 per credit hour for certain graduate
students.
Budgeters bought the student-funding concept in principle,
if not those particulars.They tossed out the old TABOR-
limited systemof a single lump-sum appropriation for each
of the public institutions and replaced it, for starters, with a
newTABOR-free approach built around a fixed amount of
compensation for every student credit hour.The planners were,
however, considerably less generous than the panel envisioned,
leaving graduate students out of the plan and pegging the
credit-hour amount at $80, not $133, for undergraduates, no
matter where they enrolled.
This was the first of several catches. At $80 per
undergraduate hour, Metropolitan State College of Denver
would receive roughly the same amount of state money it was
getting already. All of the other campuses would come up with
less than their existing funding, the gaps ranging anywhere
from16 percent for the Colorado Community College System
to 74 percent for Adams State College.The University of
Colorado system, the big gorilla in state funding, would wind
up with $84million less than the $150million it was getting
already from the state.
Obviously, that wouldn’t fly. So the solution became a
supplementary streamof income called “fee-for-service” that
technically made the institutions contractors and supposedly
paid them according to their various contributions to the state.
Except, said StephenM. Jordan, Metropolitan State’s president,
“The fee-for-service was not set up to accomplish any public
political goal. It simply became a filler tomake everybody
whole.”
When the filling was done, between fee-for-service and
stipends, Colorado’s higher education outlay for 2005-06, the
new plan’s first year, was calculated to come out to exactly what
it had been under the old revenue scheme of the preceding
year. And each institution was reckoned to get exactly the
same share—no less but nomore either, with no provision for
inflation.
To ease their continuing financial bind, the schools seized
the one financial bone the new deal had thrown them: Unlike
the old, it allowed them to raise tuition without having to count
it against the TABOR limits.
When students first signed up for classes in the fall of 2005
under the new system, they were in for a shock or two. If they
thought the stipendmoney was going to be theirs to spend,
they found themselves clicking it away, merely authorizing the
state to pay their schools money it used to pay themdirectly.
What’s more, students found themselves, between higher fees
and tuition, out of pocket anywhere from six percent at Metro
State to 24 percent at the University of Colorado at Boulder,
over and above what they had paid the year before.
So, instead of lowering the cost to students, as had been
promised or at least implied, the new scheme ended up costing
themmore that first year. Nor have the “stipends” spared them
or provided any relief from smaller tuition increases this year.
“I’ve seen both systems,” said AndrewAitchison, a student
leader at CU-Boulder. “I don’t see that [the COF] made any
difference.” College just keeps costing more money, students
say with shrugs of resignation.
The colleges and universities took pains to inform students
about the change a semester or more ahead of time, holding
meetings, sending electronic and other mailings, developing
brochures about the COF and hiring additional staff to explain
it to them in person.The information effort continues with
campus websites that detail the COF and avoid overselling it.
As Colorado State frankly tells students, one of its purposes was
Aaron Wiley, student body president at the
Metropolitan State College of Denver, called the
new plan “a gimmick.”
In 2001 Governor Bill
Owens appointed a
“blue ribbon” panel
to rethink the state’s
approach to higher
education funding.
Eric Lars Bakke, Black Star, for CrossTalk