Feb 152004
 
Authors: Christiana Nelson

With possibly the same enrollment as last year, less state

funding and a possible tuition increase, CSU official and state

legislators have a lot to consider this legislative session.

The Colorado General Assembly plans to introduce the College

Opportunity Fund to change higher education financing. However, CSU

officials and Colorado legislators view the potential impact on CSU

differently.

The College Opportunity Fund would allot Colorado high school

students vouchers, or stipends, to attend in-state institutions and

would also allow universities to pursue enterprise status, giving

them more control over university financing and tuition.

Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada/Westminster, does not agree with the

legislation and said that it could hurt CSU if the university’s

population does not grow.

“CSU would receive less funding with their new plan than if they

enrolled over 25,000 new students, since funding is partially based

on enrollment,” Sen. Windels said.

Yet, CSU Provost/Academic Vice President Peter Nicholls and

Assistant Vice President of University Relations Tom Milligan said

the university supports many of the ideas presented in the College

Opportunity Fund.

“One thing that we have seen in Colorado’s higher education is

unfunded enrollment growth,” Milligan said. “So, if the Opportunity

Fund allows student funding to follow student enrollment, then we

are supportive. It can’t solve the funding issues that we’re

dealing with in and of itself, but it could be a part of a greater

mix of things.”

Nicholls agreed, adding that other necessary implementations to

aid budget problems would be flexibility for the university to set

tuition amounts, as well as university ability to self-manage other

areas of the institution.

“We have state risk management, but if we were to be able to

self-insure some of our own insurance risks we could do it more

economically,” Nicholls said. “There are all sorts of areas that we

could hope for flexibility in, not just with tuition.”

With continual budget decreases in higher education occurring

under TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the university supports

a change in funding methods, but Nicholls worries that stipends

given to students could be used for in-state private or religious

institutions.

“As I understand it the state subsidy for higher education is a

certain size pot,” Nicholls said. “Currently, that money goes to

state-supported institutions and does not go to private schools.

That could cause difficulty if we have to split that same size pot

with a larger number of schools.”

The bill, which legislators hope to introduce this year as part

of the Public Higher Education Financing Act, would alter

Colorado’s higher education system into a system that subsidizes

students with a stipend to use at their choice in-state institution

instead of directly subsidizing institutions based upon student

enrollment.

While Joe Peters, the legislative aid to Sen. Ed Jones,

R-Colorado Springs, supports the bill, he said a lack of enrollment

growth at CSU could be a funding problem.

“The university would not get funding directly from the state,

but would receive it through students,” Peters said. “Therefore,

freezing enrollment would freeze state funds.”

Although CSU’s future enrollment plans do not include freezing

enrollment, university officials have reported that they hope to

preserve the current size of the university at approximately 25,000

students.

Still, Milligan said the public perception of CSU curbing

enrollment is inaccurate.

“We will make sure that all the kids who are qualified to attend

CSU do so,” Milligan said.

Nicholls added that the university is simply looking more

carefully at prospective students.

“We want to be very careful that the students we admit can

succeed here. We have not set any arbitrary limits, no caps, but we

realized that it was not helping students if we were lenient on

them because they weren’t doing well in school. So, we are going

through all student applicant files to make sure their track

records predict success,” Nicholls said.

The details of the expected legislation are dubious, but if the

anticipated legislation passes and gives the university greater

flexibility, Nicholls said the university still might retain its

decision to maintain current enrollment numbers.

“Growing just for the sake of growing, I’m not sure why one

would particularly want to do that,” he said. “If there are an

increased number of students who are already able to undertake our

program of study, that’s not a bad idea, but I don’t see us

becoming like the University of Minnesota with 50,000

students.”

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