Feb 192008
Authors: Aaron Hedge

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education addressed CSU student concern about rising tuition costs, something professors said put Colorado education in a “sour pickle” Tuesday night.

Rising concern about the state’s dismal higher education funding has lawmakers saying that if more funding isn’t approved, the system might soon cease to exist.

David Skaggs, director of CCHE, ensured students Tuesday that the issue is of the highest concern to state lawmakers. Skaggs, however, said while they are paving the way to fixing the problem, much more work needed to be done to work around myriad policy problems that have plagued Colorado for more nearly a decade.

“We are now, in nominal terms, back up to where we were in 2002,” Skaggs said. “But as you know, $750 million in 2002 was a lot less than $750 million in 2008.”

The state must include $830 million dollars a year for the next ten years on top of what it has already allocated to higher education funding so as to be on par with the national average.

“This is a big piece of change for a state like Colorado,” Skaggs said.

He added that schools would have to work with each other and the state legislature to make it through the next few years.

“We’re only going to get there if we don’t get into bidding wars and squabbling over pieces of a limited pie,” he said, referencing a last-minute attempt by CSU to raise tuition 32 percent at the end last year. The attempt failed.

Political science professor John Straayer also addressed students, saying institutions have to rally support from state citizens.

“The pickle we’re in, it’s a sour one, and I don’t know where the public’s head is,” Straayer said. “I’m seeing plenty of legislative reports that make me nervous.”

He said House Speaker Andrew Romanoff has the most feasible solution — a request for a one-time exemption from Colorado’s single-subject rule, which dictates a constitutional amendment can only deal with one subject.

The 1992 TABOR Amendment, which requires that Colorado only raise taxes six percent overall, and conflicts with many subsequent legislative measures, was voted into policy before the single-subject rule was implemented.

Straayer said an exemption from the single-subject rule would allow lawmakers to revise the various problems with TABOR and other laws that block the flow of funds to higher education.

But the legislature would have to get approval from citizens for exemption from the rule, Straayer said.

Skaggs said the public would not be in favor of such revisions to the state constitution, as problems in higher education are largely under the radar and most citizens don’t realize that there is even a problem.

He said Colorado is now faring better than it was after suffering the effects of the 2001 recession, but that only puts Colorado at the bottom of the barrel in the U.S. in terms of funding.

The 2006 Referendum C allowed tax revenue above six percent to be funneled into state programs instead of going back to taxpayers for three years, getting Colorado back on its feet in terms of higher education. But Referendum C could expire in 2009.

And Skaggs said it Referendum C wasn’t quite enough.

“We’re doing well (in comparison to years past), but we’re not doing well absolutely,” Skaggs said. “That’s why we have to go to the ballot. . We are living on borrowed time from Ref. C.”

Shanna Pittman, a junior technical journalism major, said she works 60 hours a week to pay for her education because she doesn’t qualify for subsidized loans. If tuition keeps going up at the rate it did last year, Pittman says she’s not sure she will be able to stay in school.

“I’m kind of screwed,” she said. “My voice cracks when I talk about it because I’m seriously upset about it.”

Straayer said unless the constitution is cleaned up, the last option might be for tuition to continue escalating.

“It may not be possible to do it any other way in the budget quandary that we’re in,” he said.

Skaggs echoed Straayer’s sentiment in reply to questions from students.

“There isn’t any magical place to go in state government to solve this problem,” he said.

The CCHE’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2009 will go to the Joint Budget Committee on March 6. Straayer said the JBC will take until the end of March to make a formal decision.

News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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