Higher education institutions in Colorado have until July to
negotiate and finalize performance contracts with the state. These
contracts will allow them to be part of the voucher program enacted
under the College Opportunity Fund.
The contracts are still in the planning stages.
They will likely require schools to have a faculty
pay-for-performance plan in which the highest-meriting faculty
members get the most pay, said Amy Roberts, spokesperson for the
Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Schools may also have to
implement tuition increases in accordance with inflation and revise
the core curriculum to facilitate student transfer from one
institution to another.
The system for funding higher education in Colorado will undergo
major changes in the next school year with the enactment of the
opportunity fund, which is part of Senate Bill 189.
Beginning next fall, Colorado colleges and universities will no
longer receive a lump sum of money from the state. Instead, a
voucher for about $2,400 will be allotted for each student enrolled
at the university, Roberts said.
“State support will very directly follow student enrollment, so
if we are more successful in enrolling students we will attract
more money because the money comes directly with the students,”
said Provost/Academic Vice President Peter Nicholls.
The vouchers will not have a direct effect on how much students
pay for tuition.
“We were already receiving that money to help pay for your
education, but we’ll just be getting it in a different way,” said
Keith Ickes, interim vice president for administrative
Roberts said the law aims to create accountability. The vouchers
create “transparency,” she said, so students can see how the state
is directly contributing to their education.
Entering into this agreement would allow Colorado colleges and
universities to qualify for enterprise status.
Enterprise status allows schools to be free of restrictions
imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
TABOR basically places a cap on the amount of tax money a
government entity can spend. This includes tuition, which is
considered state revenue. TABOR works in conjunction with Amendment
23 to decrease the amount of money higher education can receive
because Amendment 23 mandates that more of the state’s available
money be spent on K-12 education each year. This has caused higher
education to lose state funding in recent years.
The contracts will allow institutions to have more flexibility
in their revenue sources and money spending.
This includes giving schools the ability to raise tuition at a
higher rate than is currently possible under TABOR restrictions.
However, there will still be legislative oversight in tuition
“It’s still a public university and while the schools have
suffered budget cuts, they need to offer quality education, but
they still need to be affordable or you cut out a whole group of
students who can’t afford to go,” Roberts said.
In addition to the performance contracts, schools will negotiate
fee-for-service contracts, which help to fill the gap in revenue
between the lump sum of money currently given by the state and the
lesser amount allotted through individual student vouchers.
Under these contracts, the state will pay a school to maintain a
certain program, such as CSU’s Cooperative Extension program.
Fee-for-service contracts will also help fund graduate education
because the vouchers are only applicable for in-state undergraduate
However, while the College Opportunity Fund will free
participating institutions from TABOR restrictions – allowing them
to keep more of the revenue they earn and permit higher tuition
increases – Ickes does not think this will solve any monetary
problems in the state or at individual universities.
“It does not solve the state fiscal problem,” he said. “Under
TABOR, the state is running out of money.”
Government spending has to be decreased and budgets must be
re-evaluated and downsized, and the higher education budget is the
only one left to cut, Ickes said.
“While the opportunity fund finds a new way to give money to
higher education, it does not find any way to get the money, so we
will still have the same problem,” he said. “Unless something
changes, we’ll see less and less and less money coming to higher
Although future tuition hikes are probable under the contracts,
the money will likely be used to sustain the university at a level
near where it is today, Ickes said. New programs, smaller classes
and higher faculty pay are not expected to follow the tuition
“Tuition will have to go up, but students won’t get anything
extra,” he said. “The tuition will simply be replacing the money
the state gave us in the past.”
Nothing has been finalized yet, and contract negotiations
between individual schools and the state are just beginning.
“It’s a whole new way for the state to fund higher education,”
Nicholls said. “There are a lot of implementation issues that need
to be worked out, though, and we are in the middle of that process
right now. It’s a very interesting time as we at CSU try to figure