Nov 262006
 
Authors: Drew Haugen

It is not news that funding for higher education in the state of Colorado is in poor repair following the state budget cuts of the last five years.

So when the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE), the state’s higher education administrative organ, recently commissioned a study that compared the funding of Colorado higher education institutions to other peer institutions nationwide, it came as no surprise to many that Colorado is at the bottom of the pack when it comes to per capita state funding for students.

The study, released Nov. 16, said that Colorado’s higher education institutions would need $832 million to rise to the average level of funding for its peer institutions nationwide.

Wow. Almost a billion dollars added to the state’s funding of higher education institutions to make it to “average” levels of funding. That is shameful.

According to the report, for every $4,554 a CSU student receives in state funding, a peer institution student receives $11,554 in funding from their respective state.

TABOR and the post-9/11 recession forced cuts to all facets of the state budget, but no target was as seemingly easy and vulnerable as higher education that lacks the state constitutional protections for funding extended to K-12 education.

To continue on last week’s column on the condition of adjunct professors and the inequities of the instructional community at CSU, these poor conditions are no doubt a microcosm of the larger negative effect these budget cuts are having on our state’s system of higher education.

This report hasn’t elicited a solid response from many state politicians. yet.

Although Governor Owens has requested only a $50 million increase in funding in his budget, Governor-elect Bill Ritter pledges on his campaign Web site to support to the ailing Colorado higher education system.

Owens states on his Web site that he will use last year’s Referendum C revenues to pursue a fiscally responsible policy to renew Colorado’s investment in higher education while working with the legislature to work to restore many of the budget cuts of recent years.

Owens states the importance of higher education and notes the dangerous dependence Colorado has on the in-migration of educated workers from other states while calling for increased results and success from the state’s higher education institutions.

But while Owens is on the right track, more needs to be done.

As the CCHE-commissioned study shows, Colorado’s higher education is in danger of becoming the worst in the country. This, in turn, will scare away prospective quality professors, researchers and students who will seek education and academic institutions in other states.

The ease with which higher education funding came under the knife when Colorado’s state budget was under a crunch, combined with the recent CCHE report, shows that our Colorado higher education system needs a systematic change.

My idea? A state constitutional amendment that would extend the budget protections afforded to K-12 education to higher education as well.

The statutory laws in place right now set the foundation for a political environment in which funding for higher education is politically exposed to fiscally conservative budget cuts.

The political environment surrounding higher education should be completely opposite, where higher education funding is the top priority and highest agenda item.

Higher education should be off limits to lawmakers looking to cut fat from the state budget, simply because Colorado’s youth and its education is, by far, the most important resource that Colorado has to offer.

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

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