May 052005
 
Authors: Lila Hickey

The university and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education have agreed upon CSU's performance contract for the 2005-2006 school year, but Associated Students of CSU President Katie Clausen is not happy with some aspects of it.

Clausen acknowledged that the performance contract, an agreement between CSU, the commission and the state legislature that requires CSU to meet certain academic and administrative standards, gives CSU leeway to raise tuition rates, a move Clausen has supported, but she is concerned by several specific sections of the contract.

"The entire document is very vague in a binding way," she said. "We're agreeing that we'll get to this point and we have no idea how."

Primary among Clausen's concerns is the CCHE's call for student grade reports, a requirement she feels will place extra pressure on professors already concerned about national accusations of grade inflation. In recent years, many university critics have suggested that earning an A today does not require the same amount of effort as in the past.

"This has become a very hot topic nationwide this year with allegations of grade inflation," Clausen said.

Clausen is also concerned about the reasons for which CSU is allowed to raise tuition, mainly because building maintenance is not specifically included in the list. CSU President Larry Penley is moving toward the creation of a $10 per-credit-hour fee to pay for maintenance on campus facilities.

"(The list doesn't) include maintenance, and maintenance is a mandatory cost in my mind," Clausen said.

Clausen has long advocated finding a way to fund campus construction and supported Penley's proposal, but she is concerned that the state did not specifically list construction as a cost for which the university can raise tuition costs.

" I understand it says 'not limited to,' but I would like to see (maintenance) delineated out," Clausen said.

She is also worried about the introduction of university-wide testing prior to graduation to "demonstrate core knowledge," according to the contract. If the testing is introduced without any system to aid students in passing, Clausen is concerned students will not pass the test.

"I see the benefit in trying to make sure our students are not just going through the motions, regurgitating and quickly forgetting," she said. "(But) if you do not have a system to support these students then they're not going to do well and it's going to make the university look bad."

University spokesperson Brad Bohlander said the administration was satisfied with the performance contract's stipulations.

"It is one of our goals to balance university autonomy with public accountability," Bohlander said.

Don Hamstra, chair of the Board of Governors of the CSU System, shared university administrators' relative satisfaction with the contract.

"I think it's generally good," Hamstra said of the contract. "I mean, it's a big document and there's always things that you like more than others."

The board of governors unanimously approved the performance contract at the beginning of the spring semester.

But the contract does bring some good news for the university, said Maria Bennett, director of legislative affairs for ASCSU.

"One of the positives is it lets the university have a little more direct control of what it can and can't do," she said.

Previously, CSU was required to consult the higher education commission about many of the major decisions made on campus. But the performance contract lists a variety of decisions that the university can now make independently. Bennett cited capital construction projects as an example.

"With the new capital construction money that's coming, any project that's less than $500,000 doesn't have to go to the CCHE for approval anymore," she said.

Bennett is also pleased by the contract's creation of statewide transfer-credit standardization. All universities with performance contracts now have the same rules regarding the acceptance of credits from other schools, including community and two-year colleges.

"It's a little more even across the state," Bennett said. "You know that they're going to transfer."

Overall, Clausen said she also was pleased with the contract, especially because it gives the university leeway to raise tuition and fees to cover increasing costs. But she still feels the state needs a better solution to funding higher education.

"We've been asking for a long-term fix," she said. "Not a five-year fix, because five years is going to come and go awfully fast."

Several Colorado universities have bonded together to form Fund Our Future, Today!, a group that speaks to politicians, chambers of commerce and other concerned Coloradans about the benefits of funding higher education. ASCSU passed a bill Wednesday night calling for support of Fund Our Future, Today! and the group's latest project, a trip to the Capitol for "I Love Higher Education Day."

"I think this is a very important piece of legislation," said its author, Sen. J.T. Davis of the liberal arts college.

Davis was one of several senators who was reluctant to increase student fees to pay for university upkeep the state no longer funds. He is concerned that deciding to foot the bill would tell the state legislature that CSU would fund itself and does not need state money.

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