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“to heighten awareness that state tax dollars are used to offset
the costs of undergraduate education.”
Hector Hernandez, a senior at CU-Boulder, said the
COF has done that for him. He is impressed—unfavorably.
“There are a lot of other states that pay a lot more,” he said. He
mentioned Georgia, which pays full tuition at any state college
or university for any state resident who graduates from a state
high school with a B or better average.
As for its advocates’ claim that the COF would increase
student access, Protopsaltis asks how. In fact, according to his
calculations, college participation by low-income students
has decreased in Colorado since this went into effect. As for
its proper name, Protopsaltis insists on calling this a “voucher
system.” “That’s what it is,” he said, because it is also available
to the state’s private nonprofit colleges that are not, according
to the law, “pervasively sectarian.” By signing up, they can
claim for their Pell grant-eligible students half the credit-hour
amount that goes to the public campuses.
So far Regis University and Denver University are taking
part, and Colorado College has been approved to do so.
The inclusion of the private schools is “a foot in the door…
that signals a major change in higher education in the state,”
Protopsaltis said.
Coloradomakes the COF payments up to a total of
145 undergraduate credit hours per student. Beyond that,
students must pay the COF amount themselves. Jordan said
that students have become aware of that limit and are now
being “a lot more careful about the choice of the credits they
take.” Newly this year, basic-skills, or college-prep, courses
taught at community colleges are exempt from the cap. And
undergraduate students in fields like nursing and dental
hygiene at the University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Center
in Denver are eligible for the COF for the first time this year.
Last year, an unknown number of eligible students
statewide either didn’t get the word or said, in effect, “no
thanks” to the COF. Jordan says the holdouts included some
students whose employers were paying for their education.
Others spurned what they perceived as needless government
handouts, said NancyMcCallin, president of the Colorado
Community College system. Still, given all the administrative
work that went into informing students about the new system
and installing new computer software to accommodate it, she
said it would take “a significant amount of work” to return to
the old pre-COF days.
No college administrators are publicly advocating doing
anything of the kind, though none seem entirely satisfied
with what they and the state budget refer to as “stipends.”
The prevailing attitude is that this newway of collecting state
money is here to stay, something they must learn to live with
but that, as a work in progress, is subject to fixing more to
their liking over time. Tying some state support to students
has introduced an element of fiscal uncertainty that was not
there before, McCallin said. “You live and die now by your
enrollment numbers.” Still, she said she’s holding off onmaking
any suggestions for improvement until this second year of the
experiment has ended.
Officials of research universities, meanwhile, are not at all
reticent about expressing their special beef—that the state is
failing now to adequately reward them for their higher-cost
programs. As Boulder campus president
Hank Brown pointed out, “Theoretically
the stipend is for undergraduate programs,
and an equal amount nomatter where the
student goes.”Theoretically, then, a fee-for-
service funding streamwould cover the cost
of graduate and other high-cost programs,
such as the University of Colorado’s medical
school in Denver, the only one in the state. But
Brown said it doesn’t begin to do so.
Nor, said Colorado State President Larry
Penley, does fee-for-service take adequate
measure of his school’s relatively costly extension service,
veterinary school, and undergraduate and graduate programs
in science and technology. He worries that the result is an
incentive for all of the state’s colleges and universities “to offer
more low-cost programs because there’s no variation in the
amount of revenue you get.”
As solutions, Penley suggests extending stipends to graduate
students and replacing the one-size-fits-all undergraduate
payments with variable amounts tied to the cost of students’
academic programs. Some have suggested tying the stipends to
students’ financial need. More common are calls to increase the
dollar amount. FrankWaterous of the Bell Policy Center said
he’d like to see the stipend rise to at least $100 per credit hour
next year.
Jordan proposes raising it as much as it takes tomake it a
true entitlement and force his and all of the other state schools
to compete more vigorously for students. As things stand now,
he said, “We’re caught between two funding systems…I don’t
think it serves the state to be in this mixedmodel.”
In the first year, when the model had only been in effect
for 11months, the state divided its higher-education funding
almost exactly down the middle—51 percent to stipends and
49 percent to fee-for-service. Estimates for the current 12-
month year show stipends
rising to 55 percent of the
state’s higher education
spending (the result of that
extra month), growth in the
number of eligible students,
and a $6 increase in the
stipend, or COF, rate—to $86
per credit hour.
The schools have
Colorado voters to thank
for that extra $6. In their
fondness for government
by ballot box, voters went
to the polls once again
inNovember 2005, and
produced an outcome
that belied their tight-
fisted image.They passed
ReferendumC, which
lifted for five years the state
spending limits they had
approved in the TABOR
amendment 13 years earlier.
By 2002, Colorado
had dropped into the
bottom ten states in
its financing effort
for public colleges
and universities.
Spiros Protopsaltis, of the Bell Policy Center, thinks
the plan represents “a foot in the door” for Colorado
private colleges and universities to claim state and
federal money.
Eric Lars Bakke, Black Star, for CrossTalk