On Wednesday, when state legislators and students were rallying for the survival of higher education and shielding of students from the â€œburdenâ€ of budget shortfalls, prominent Colorado conservative Douglas Bruce said students should be paying for the product.
The crisis, former legislative official Bruce said, is not a lack of funding for higher education but rather a result of an inefficient system in which professors are paid too much and standards are too low.
â€œUniversities have become what high school used to be,â€ Bruce said. â€œA college degree is really just a certificate of attendance.â€
Other Colorado legislators, who support students in their quest to maintain publicly funded higher education, said investing in new minds is vital to the future of the state.
â€œ(We need) to invest in students so they can become stronger contributors to society,â€ said State Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
Fischer, a CSU alumnus, said Colorado needs to establish a solid funding stream for its public universities. State Rep. John Kafalas, D-Fort Collins, who also got his degree from CSU, agreed.
Historically though, Colorado voters have struck down initiatives that would have done so.
In 2008, Gov. Bill Ritter and Fischer pushed a ballot measure that would have eliminated Coloradoâ€™s generous tax credits for oil and gas companies and relocated the funds to higher education. The measure failed.
Throwing more money into the system, Bruce said, would be a waste. He suggested schools like CSU alleviate pressure by cutting inflated coaches and faculty salaries and implementing a free-market system.
â€œIf you let the market decide, it will find itâ€™s own equilibrium,â€ he said, warning that he is not â€œlaunching a tiradeâ€ against higher education. He said he doesnâ€™t think people who arenâ€™t using the system should foot the bill.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s fair that some guy flipping hamburgers will pay higher taxesâ€ so others can go to college, he said.
â€œWhy do we want everyone to go to college; is it going to make them a better house painter?â€ he asked, arguing that an individualâ€™s education doesnâ€™t benefit the public directly.
Fort Collins City Council member Ben Manvil, D-1, said what the state needs to save higher education is a constitutional convention that would lay out all of the â€œcards stackedâ€ against proactive legislators.
â€œWe have starved higher ed for quite some time,â€ Manvil said, citing amendments such as the Tax Payerâ€™s Bill of Rights, Bruceâ€™s pet project, which limits the stateâ€™s ability to garner more revenue through tax increases.
â€œUnless we change the system, I think weâ€™re basically cooked,â€ he said.
Students, Kefalas said, should continue to â€œpush backâ€ but need to be at the table offering alternative solutions, especially during an election year.
And while student leaders like student government Director of Legislative Affairs Matt Worthington are making sure they have a seat at these tables, legislators are struggling to come up with immediate solutions to a systemic problem.
â€œRight now there is no good answer,â€ Fischer said. â€œMy fear is weâ€™ll go back to the students and ask them to shoulder even more of the burden.â€
Senior Reporter Kirsten Silveira can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. _