May 052009
 
Authors: Bryan Shiele

Though some university stakeholders expressed concerns about the future of higher education funding in Colorado, CSU leaders and members of the local political community alike commended Gov. Bill Ritter for avoiding a $300 million cut to state institutions by signing the state budget bill last week.

The finalized version of the Long Bill, signed into law Friday, includes a $150 million cut to higher education that will be federally backfilled in its entirety over the next two years using funds received by President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, according to Ritter.

At CSU, the state’s higher education slash will result in about a $30 million shortfall, much less than what was initially feared after the Joint Budget Committee proposed a $300 million dollar cut to higher education a month ago.

“In the end I was pleased that the governor clearly and unambiguously stated his strong support for public higher education as an investment in Colorado’s future and that the leadership of both parties, the business community and many citizens of Colorado were all in strong agreement,” said Tony Frank, interim CSU president, in an e-mail to the Collegian.

State Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, said he is “just glad we were able to come up with an alternative to the $300 million cut, which would have dramatically impacted the mission of CSU and other state-funded universities.”

However, lawmakers, including Kefalas, and CSU leaders did warn that using federal stimulus dollars is not necessarily a long-term solution for higher education funding.

“We have to do something to develop a sustainable revenue stream for higher education,” Kefalas said. “In two years will we will have serious issues unless we get that steady stream.”

Don Marostica, Larimer County’s representative on the JBC, said he fears that higher education funding will only get worse in the future.

“I’m okay with (the $150 million cut) now, but it is not going to get better,” Marostica said. “When the stimulus money is gone we will be right back where we started and tuition will continue to go up.”

When the $30 million cut comes down at CSU, tuition is expected to increase 9 percent for undergraduate residents, 3 percent for non-resident undergraduates, 15 percent for resident graduates and 5 percent for non-resident graduates.

“For the next two years higher education will be fine, but we need to figure out a way to get higher education funded better,” Marostica added.

CSU political science professor John Straayer said he is pleased that the slash to higher education is not as bad as the most severe situation would have suggested, but the wise thing to do is to plan for the worst because “we just don’t know what condition the state is going to be in for the future.”

Straayer also acknowledged that the state is “stuck between a rock and a hard place” when it comes to higher education funding and that the cuts were “done in a state of fiscal desperation.”

Calling the state’s fiscal policy “a mess,” Straayer added that “voters have supported a series of constitutional provisions that are conflicting, resulting in a convoluted tangle of provisions and a completely dysfunctional fiscal policy.”

Associated Students of CSU President Taylor Smoot echoed Straayer’s thoughts, going so far as to say that he supports a complete constitutional convention.

“We have state legislators that know what to do, but the (State) Constitution does not allow them to do their job,” Smoot said.

Even so, Smoot says that considering the economic situation the state is in, lawmakers did a “pretty good job” by trying to preserve higher education until a sustainable solution can be found in the future.

Kefalas optimistically suggested that “this crisis could be transformed into opportunity” and wants to remind all citizens that the “majority of legislators and elected officials actually do care about higher education.”

Staff writer Bryan Schiele can be reached at news@collegian.com

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