On the coffee table of CSU President Larry Penley’s office rests
the book “Colorado 1870-2000.”
A favorite among many Coloradans, the book is a collection of
photographs taken of historic and picturesque locations in Colorado
by William Henry Jackson during the 1860s.
Accompanying every photo taken by Jackson is a duplicate taken
in the same exact place by Fielder 130 years later, demonstrating
the changing landscape and infrastructure of Colorado since
Fielder looks at the present by exploring the past. Penley’s
situation is similar, except he is looking toward the future by
exploring CSU’s position today.
Penley has come to his new job from Arizona and is following in
the footsteps of former President Albert C. Yates. Arriving last
summer, Penley inherited a university in the midst of change and
during a state financial crisis.
Despite certain woes, Penley sees CSU in the future as an
institution with the same dedication to excellence it has today,
but also as an internationally recognized research facility.
“We (will) be one of the finest internationally recognized
research universities in this country, recognized for the kind of
excellence that we already have in atmospheric sciences, that we
already have in infectious disease, and extend that to other areas
in biomedical sciences,” Penley said in an interview with The
Penley said doing this would require CSU to continue its
dedication to bringing international students to CSU and by
employing more classes dealing with globalization in standard
“Further you really want close relationships with excellent
partner schools outside the United States where both faculty and
students want to go,” he said.
But before CSU can get to the international status Penley is
seeking, it must deal with the severe financial hurdles in its path
State budget revenue for higher education has been decreasing
steadily because of restrictions from the Taxpayer’s Bill of
Rights. TABOR restricts CSU’s ability to raise tuition because
tuition is considered state income and can therefore be distributed
among all the state’s residents.
“I don’t think most students and parents understand that when
you pay your tuition bill in Colorado, that tuition revenue counts
as TABOR revenue,” Penley said. “I think most of us understand and
believe that when we pay tuition revenue, that’s going to support
our education, not to be redistributed to our neighbor, who does
not have a student in school.”
As a way to work with the financial vise TABOR puts state
universities in, a bill is being considered for proposal to the
Colorado General Assembly that would possibly alleviate the
pressure. The College Opportunity Fund would establish a voucher
program for high school students and allow universities to gain
The voucher program would give high school students a $2,500
stipend for use at Colorado public college tuition, in its most
recent published status. The students would receive the money
instead of it being given directly to the universities.
Penley said he would support the College Opportunity Fund if it
contained four basic principles. The first principle deals with
vouchers as a way to track enrollment growth and the second as a
way to encourage access to higher education.
“One of the things that we hope will happen is that in Colorado,
people will understand more readily that the state is funding
higher education, not as well as we would like, but funding higher
education, and that will result in more individuals seeking out
higher education opportunities and getting a college degree,” he
“Vouchers are a good idea or stipends are a good idea because it
attracts money with enrollment growth. I think a lot of people
misunderstand the cost, not that the cost of going to school is
cheap, it’s not, but I think people often even overestimate what
the price of an education is. What the vouchers will do is to help
to communicate the price of education to people so that access
increases, people can afford to go to school.”
The third principle Penley mentioned was that the bill should
account for and embrace the different missions of Colorado
universities. He sees CSU as a “large, public, research
university,” and thus it has a different objective from other state
“We are not the same as any other university here in Colorado,”
he said. “So we need a bill that recognizes that we are different
and that also has money associated with that special mission that
Colorado State University has, not just to Colorado, but to the
Rocky Mountain Region.”
Another aspect of the bill would allow universities to gain
enterprise status. This would free the university from TABOR
restrictions by allowing it to control its own surpluses.
Universities would also be free to raise tuition by more than in
Penley’s fourth principle would require that the bill increase
flexibility for universities as enterprises.
“We all know tuition has gone up the last few years. Would it go
up some (under enterprise status), yes,” Penley said. “But I’ve
made a real commitment that if we raise tuition, a substantial
proportion of that will be driven back into scholarships.”
The raise in tuition would help cover money the university would
no longer receive from the state.
“I realize we don’t want tuition to go up very much, that’s not
in anyone’s interests, student or president, but right now we are
at 72 percent of the average of our peers, and among 17 schools
we’re 17th. From an enterprise point of views, tuition is less
restricted,” Penley said.
Penley wants students to know that despite increased tuition and
major budget cutbacks, the administration is operating at minimal
costs as it is. Therefore money going to the administration cannot
be cut back anymore.
“With the efficiency level that we have in the administrative
end, one can’t cut the costs there anymore, unless we get rid of
presidents and deans. Maybe that would be a good idea,” Penley said
with a laugh. “I’m joking of course.”
Whether joking around or in all seriousness, there is much in
front of Penley and CSU before the university’s future is realized.
Look in Tuesday’s Collegian for part two of this series.
|This is part one of a two-part series The
Collegian is running this week exploring CSU President Larry
Penley’s thoughts on current and future university issues.