The College Opportunity Fund, a plan to transform Colorado’s
higher education into a voucher system, may run into trouble down
the line, said Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada/Westminster.
While the College Opportunity Fund hopes to release universities
from the confines of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by not counting
higher education tuition as state revenue, Windels worries that
simply changing the flow of state money from schools to students
may not be the answer.
“Personally, I believe TABOR proponents will file a lawsuit if
this bill passes saying it’s bookkeeping trickery,” Windels said.
“I’d rather see a ballot issue asking the people of Colorado to
exempt higher education tuition from TABOR.”
The Public Higher Education Financing Act of 2003, which
includes the College Opportunity Fund, did not make it out of
committee last year due to time constraints. Joe Peters, the
legislative aide to Sen. Ed Jones, R-Boulder/Broomfield and a
Senate sponsor for the bill, said legislators hope to propose the
bill in the near future.
While supporters argue the bill could provide additional aid to
students, Windels said the bill would not increase the amount of
money given to higher education.
“It does not create any ‘new money’ for students or for
colleges. It just ‘re-labels’ how it is distributed,” Windels
“There will not be a fund where money for every person in
Colorado is deposited and sits there waiting until that person
chooses to attend college. Money from ‘the fund’ is simply the same
money that the state gave to colleges for each student enrolled,
given now as a voucher in the name of that student, rather than as
a nameless bulk deposit based on the number of total students
enrolled in the school.”
Peters agreed the main difference between the current system and
the system under the College Opportunity Fund is whom the money is
“The university would not get funding directly from the state,
but would receive it through students,” he said. “I’m under the
impression that the idea was to replace state funding
dollar-for-dollar, without additional cuts or increases.”
Peters said his concern with the legislation’s implementation
would be a decrease in state funds, but he said current students
would not be negatively impacted.
“The only problem is if the new system provides less funding
than the old, but even in that case current students are sure to be
grandfathered in,” he said.
Regardless of the circumstances, Windels is worried about the
lack of state funding for higher education.
“When this bill was first discussed last year, the voucher was
to be $4,200 per pupil,” Windels said. “This year, it’s $2,500 per
pupil because the state has cut funding to higher education. The
pot of money for all higher education students is smaller and,
thus, the voucher is smaller.”
Peters said that in the legislation’s most recent form the
longevity of stipends was based upon student credit hours.
“Full-time students would receive the stipend until they reached
140 credit hours,” Peters said. “Although I’m not sure if it was in
the legislation, a smaller stipend could be extended to part-time
While the state would maintain power over tuition, Windels said
that if universities were to privatize then the state could not
assure that increased tuition was accompanied by increased
need-based aid, which could lead more students to attend community
Proponents of the bill disagree, saying that one of the main
advantages to the College Opportunity Fund is its ability to help
low-income students attend higher education institutions.
“On the separate issue of privatizing colleges, which is
unlikely to happen anytime soon, a system of subsidizing students
would help mitigate any impact on low-income students,” Peters
While Windels said the bill has some attractive components, she
believes taxpayers need to understand the most drastic change that
the College Opportunity Fund could conjure for higher
“For the first time, however, private and religious schools are
eligible to receive funding,” Windels said. “Remember, there is no
new state funding, so opening eligibility to students attending
private and religious schools just reduces the amount of the