DENVER — After a crash course in lobbying state lawmakers, student governments from across Colorado showed up in the House of Representatives and the Senate Monday to support Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposal to legislators to increase funding for higher education by at least eight percent for fiscal year 2009 — a proposal some lawmakers said was perfectly possible.
Higher education in Colorado fell to the bottom of the barrel in terms of the national average, a trend made real for students last year when the average tuition price tag escalated 10 percent on average throughout the state and 16 percent at CSU, which included a one credit gap closure.
Mounting pressure from voters to support other important programs, like transportation and health care, had some lawmakers reluctant to commit support to the student lobbyists.
“There’s so many things that people want, and everyone can’t have everything,” said Max Clark, a senior international relations major.
Clark said some of the legislators he and other CSU students talked to Monday have many other issues on their minds, including non-traditional forms of higher education, like vocational tech schools.
Rep. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, said non-traditional schools in rural areas must be considered in the proposal before she would support it.
“That’s a huge portion of jobs — electricians, plumbers — that’s the baseline of our democracy,” Jahn said.
House Speaker Andrew Romanoff said the eight percent increase is feasible, if voters get behind the proposal.
“I think it’s in the ballpark,” he told the Collegian after a public appearance on the west steps of the capital building.
Skaggs, however, said all parties have to cooperate to make the system work.
“If we’re going to get well financially, we have to ask students and their parents to pay some of the tuition,” he said.
But others at the capitol said it depends on how highly voters value education in
relation to other areas struggling after dips in funding from the 2001 recession left many state-funded programs in the state thinly funded after TABOR limits refused lawmakers the right to raise taxes over than six percent more than the previous year.
But Blake Gibson, president of the Associated Students of Colorado and the man behind the lobby planning, said even an eight percent increase isn’t enough to fix the tuition problem, which puts the state $832 million behind in the national average in state funding.
He said Colorado has many of the strongest students in the nation, but that will change if the system doesn’t receive more money.
“That pride will crumble with our buildings if we don’t fund it,” Gibson said in a speech to the press on the west steps. “Knowledge has become more expensive than our car payments.”
Skaggs said that while students can always expect tuition increases, state funding and university efforts should meet them halfway.
He said Colorado has amazing performance in education, with more college graduates per capita than any other state with a “dismal” amount of funding. But he added that Colorado students need more funding from the state for that excellence to continue.
“You’re doing more with less, but it’s time you were able to do more with more,” he said.
News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.