Oct 152006
 
Authors: Drew Haugen

During a gubernatorial debate last Thursday, candidates Bob Beauprez and Bill Ritter squandered a great chance to define themselves.

The candidates spent most of their time articulating what higher education should not be or making vague generalizations rather than providing clear solutions to problems plaguing Colorado’s higher education system.

“If the example is the No Child Left Behind law at the K-12 level, I think it would be the wrong direction, the entirely wrong direction, for us,” Ritter said.

OK. So what’s the right direction, Bill?

On the future of higher education, the candidates were equally uninspiring: “What we ought to give our institutions, our higher education institutions, is the flexibility to define who they want to be. Do they want to be a teachers’ college? Do they want to be an engineering school?” Beauprez pondered.

Deep.

Unfortunately, both of these candidates vying for Colorado’s highest elected office, speaking at a forum hosted by CSU, one of the state’s largest universities, were not compelled to provide clear insight for improvement of our state’s floundering higher education system.

Colorado currently ranks 48th of the union’s 50 states for funding of higher education; our higher education system is in poor repair.

One of the greatest investments Colorado’s state government can make is an investment in its human capital. The college degree is a standard for competitiveness and employability among the American work force, and strong state government subsidization of our higher education institutions is an important means of providing Colorado youth with the tools necessary to compete in global economies.

So far, this hasn’t happened.

Even with the relief that last year’s Referendum C provided, tuition costs, fees and student debt continue to rise. Not afforded the same protections as K-12 education under the state constitution, higher education has become an easy target for recent state budget cuts.

Further, increased demands are being placed on community colleges that are taking the overflow from four-year schools.

Let’s just say I was less than impressed with the gubernatorial candidates’ stances on higher education. Unfortunately, it seems firm stances on education do not yield significant political capital. Perhaps there are more difficult questions than simple, sound-byte answers?

Nonetheless, a real political agenda on education would call Coloradans to a greater cause than themselves: the improvement of schools for Coloradan posterity.

The dividends of the 1960s investment in education for the Space Race are evident today, with the dominance America has enjoyed in science and technology for half a century.

But recently education has fallen low on politicians’ agendas, as evidenced by Thursday’s debate.

Well, last time I checked, students make up a key demographic for election success.

Want my vote? Lower my tuition. Break the cycle of debt-accumulation that plagues college students. Drop the platitudes and make it an easy decision for young Coloradans to educate themselves.

Drew Haugen is a senior international studies major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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