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As a result, the state has been legally free since early 2006
to spend some of the surplus revenue—now running ahead
of estimates—that otherwise it would have had to return to
taxpayers. As a result of the passage of ReferendumC, the state’s
public colleges and universities have been
spared yet another debilitating budget cut, and
they stand to realize, together, an extra $80
million or so in state funding this fiscal and
academic year, about 13.9 percent more than
last year, according to the Center for the Study
of Education Policy.
All of the institutions are collecting more
stipendmoney as well as more state money
altogether this year, but nobody is claiming
it is enough. For the University of Colorado
system, the extra cash has provided little more
than cost-of-living adjustments, according
to Brown. “It has stopped the bleeding, but it
hasn’t restored the limb that has been cut off,”
he said.
The issue of how best to divvy up this
financial pie does not deal with the problem
that Brown and other college officials see as the biggest higher
education funding issue of all—the small size of the pie.
Support for that view comes from the Boulder-based
National Center for Higher EducationManagement Systems,
which in a recent study for the Colorado Commission on
Higher Education found every one of the state’s public colleges
and universities deficient in state support when compared with
its peer schools nationwide.
Based onNCHEMS’ work, the Commission has estimated
that Colorado would need to pump $832millionmore a year—
more than double its current level of support—into higher
education just to bring all of its campuses up to the national
average. For starters, the Commission
has put in a 2007-08 budget request for
an extra $106million, with $10million
of that to go to stipends. Before leaving
office, Governor Owens asked for a
more realistic boost of $50million,
including the $10million for stipends.
Either way, funding would tilt toward
fee-for-service in the third year of the
new system.
Jordan, while preferring stipends,
is hopeful, believing that Colorado
has “turned the corner in people’s
understanding of the importance of
higher education.”
Colorado State’s Straayer takes
heart fromwhat he senses is a new and
warmer climate for higher education,
partly reflected in Colorado’s recent
dramatic turn from red state to blue.
Democrats captured both houses of the state legislature in
2004, and Democrat Bill Ritter, the state’s new governor,
finished what Straayer calls a “hat trick” for his party by
winning the state’s top office by a solidmargin inNovember.
Circumstances add up to what Straayer foresees as “an effort to
rebuild the fiscal foundation for higher education.”
Governor Ritter has talked that talk. On his campaign
website, he called for “doubling the current production of
technical certificates and college degrees over the next ten
years,” and he pledged to restore higher education funding,
increase state support, and “salvage” the community college
system, which he described as so financially devastated that ten
of its 13 campuses had been at risk of closing. However, other
than briefly proposing that the College Opportunity Fund be
extended to college courses taken by high school students,
Ritter’s website has nothing to say about the funding system.
Ritter also spoke in the same generally positive vein about
higher education in a pre-election interviewwith
ColoradoBiz
magazine. “We need to figure out how to stabilize it going
forward,” he said. “Higher education for us will be a priority,
and our goal is going to be to try to get it to the national average
in (per-student) spending.”
FromHank Brown’s perspective, Colorado’s colleges and
universities share with the politicians the onus of reaching
that goal. “We haven’t done as good a job as we should have
inmaking people understand the importance of higher
education,” he said. “We have to reach out to the community
and involve them in what we’re doing…We’ve done a decent
job with the legislature; where we’ve fallen short is with the
people who elect the legislators.”
Ultimately, in a state with a history of voters taking
legislative matters into their own hands, the people will decide.
They’re the ones who approved ReferendumC, loosening the
state purse strings, but for only five years, making for what
Waterous said is just “a temporary timeout,” good only until
2011. What happens then “is a discussion we need to start soon
to knowwhat the options are,” he added. Clearly, without a
statewide vote to extend ReferendumC or enact some other
measure to keep TABOR at bay, the old spending limits will
come back in full force and shut off the money flow.
u
Susan C.Thomson is a former higher education writer for the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
.
Colorado’s higher
education outlay for
2005-06, the new
plan’s first year,
turned out to be
exactly what it had
been under the old
revenue scheme of
the preceding year.
“Some people think they’re getting extra
money from the state, but they’re not,” said
Colorado State sophomore Hee Yeon Day.
Stephen M. Jordan, president of Metropolitan State College of
Denver, thinks the new funding approach has “turned the corner
in people’s understanding of the importance of higher education.”
Eric Lars Bakke, Black Star, for CrossTalk