DENVER – The state House Education Committee heard testimonies Tuesday for and against a bill that would completely change how higher education is funded in the state of Colorado.
House Bill 1336 would establish the Public Higher Education Financing Act of 2003. The state would provide vouchers to students instead of appropriating state General Funds support to institutions; in other words, the bill would fund students rather than institutions, said Rep. Keith King, a prime supporter of the bill.
Members of the committee brought up enrollment increase concerns. If the state does not have funds to allocate to an increasing enrollment population, options include a reduction of the student stipend or a cap on enrollment.
CSU President Albert C. Yates testified before the committee today stating concerns he had about the voucher proposal.
Yates said that he and others at CSU support the voucher plan because it serves as a vehicle for positive prospects. Those prospects include enhancing participation for higher education, changing the funding of higher education to escape the unintentional consequences of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and the prospect to improve the quality and responsiveness of higher education.
“We don’t know what will happen, but we have to give it a chance,” Yates said.
Yates addressed concerns he has voiced before about the voucher proposal. Initially the bill stated that between $3,500 and $4,000 would be deposited by the state every year into a high school student’s account to pay for college. That figure is now left blank and has raised concerns about the amount of the stipend students would receive from the state.
Yates addressed that concern as well as the cost of implicating the proposal and tuition authority.
One of the benefits CSU will see if the bill is passed is a status change in becoming a state enterprise and the ability to escape TABOR limits. This would allow CSU and other Colorado colleges more flexibility in raising tuition.
Associated Students of CSU President David Bower voiced concerns students had about tuition authority.
The bill would give the Colorado Commission of Higher Education tuition authority. Bower argued that the authority should be given to the Board of Governors of the CSU System.
Bower also addressed concerns about the bill’s proposed 140-credit cap. Any students who take over 140 credits would be ineligible for state subsidy, meaning they would have to pay out-of-state tuition.
“These positive implications could move the best students from the institution,” Bower said.
An example he gave was engineering students. Students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in the College of Engineering have done so with an average of 155 credits for the 2002 school year, Bower said. Also, students with double majors and minors would run the risk of exceeding the cap, he said.
Student who do go over 140 credits, however, can apply for an exemption to the bill.
Equality verses equity was another concern Bower raised. High school students would receive the same stipend amount whether choosing a flagship school such as CSU or the University of Colorado at Boulder or a community college such as Front Range Community College.
In a letter to the committee, Bower wrote that the education students receive from research flagship institutions like CSU is not equal to that of community colleges.
“It’s not equitable to pay the same for all students.” (What) needs to be considered is, is it fair to give community colleges the same money as four-year institutions?” Bower said.
Supporters of the bill include Kay Norton, the president of the University of Northern Colorado, the Colorado Student Association, which represents students from CU and other Colorado universities, and the Colorado Commission of Higher Education.
The voucher plan came from the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Higher Education for the 21st Century. It was charged, in consultation with the CCHE, to collect information, conduct hearings and develop recommendations on the role and mission of higher education for the General Assembly.
The plan would in effect create educational savings accounts for Colorado residents attending Colorado public institutions.
The bill has to be passed by three committees in the house before being sent to the Senate to be passed. It is highly possible that both houses will not pass the bill before the current session ends in May.