Apr 082007
 
Authors: Drew Haugen

Last week, campus and political communities erupted in criticism of President Larry Penley’s proposed amendment to the Colorado state budget for $34 million in additional spending authority for Colorado State University.

But if anyone should be catching heat during the fallout of Bob Bacon and President Penley’s failed amendment to the state budget it should be the voters, politicians, and other actors who have created a negative political environment around the funding of higher education in the state of Colorado.

When Penley sought an amendment to the state budget two weeks ago, he was not only undeserving of the outpouring of criticism he received, but was also discouraged in his efforts to bring something to CSU we are in dire need of: Funding.

Let’s face facts: With the intolerable state of disrepair of Colorado’s higher education funding (ranked 48th in the nation in per capita funding), reparative funding needs to come from somewhere.

And while state subsidies should be stepped up, that may mean footing some of the bill by raising tuition, as well.

Colorado has seen a steady decrease in state funding for higher education since 1992, when TABOR spending limits came into effect. And unlike K-12 education, whose funding is somewhat protected under the state constitution, higher education has been subject to state budget cut after state budget cut.

With decreased funding from the state, CSU has had to fight to keep the education it offers on par with peer institutions. But in the process, a disparity has developed. In fact, that gap is estimated to be about $832 million dollars, just for the state of Colorado to catch up to the funding of peer institutions in other states.

As Penley correctly noted last week in the Denver Post: “We can no longer afford to give away an education at one of the state’s top research universities at 60 percent of the cost and remain competitive or offer the high-quality education our students deserve.”

Coloradans have been notably quiet during this slow progression towards mediocrity in higher education funding under TABOR spending limits, but when a University President tries to correct some of the funding disparities between CSU and its peer institutions nationwide, he is severely reprimanded.

Interesting.

As far as Penley trying to pull a “fast one” on the students of CSU, if you want to get angry at the methods by which the amendment was pursued, (Senator Steve Johnson has famously noted “they came in on the 11th hour and the 59th minute”) look no further than the Colorado State University Board of Governors.

This group of bureaucrats, who act as Penley’s bosses, directed Penley to “pursue the amendment.” Penley was simply following orders, but it seems the Board of Governors is content to leave Penley hanging out to dry.

On the bright side, Penley’s actions have had some ancillary benefits: the outrage surrounding his fizzled amendment to the state budget has cast the public spotlight on Colorado’s higher education funding, giving it some much needed attention.

Governor Ritter’s campaign Web site, RitterforGovernor.com, politely quips “As Governor, I will honor voters’ wishes and make it our priority to fund education. I am committed to making our public schools and our public institutions of higher education among the best in the nation.”

Let’s hope Governor Ritter’s call that “education must be the state’s No. 1 priority” is more than political campaign fodder.

What’s more, our own ASCSU president-elect and vice president-elect make no mention whatsoever on their campaign Web site (votekatieandtrevor.com) of the greatest crisis facing our student community: The future of higher education funding.

Instead, there are promises to fight student fee increases and “advocate fiscal restraint.” These student leaders will direct ASCSU’s lobby to the Colorado legislature next year, which will have a direct impact on the battle for higher education funding. What will they advocate for?

Political and student leadership need to step up to the immense challenge of rescuing higher education funding in the state of Colorado from the brink of disaster. I commend President Penley for attempting to address this problem, and, if nothing else, opening debate once again on the poor state of our higher education system’s funding future.

Higher education in the state of Colorado has been strangled by funding cuts for 15 years: Something will need to change if Colorado doesn’t want to be ranked 50th in the nation for per capita higher education funding sometime soon.

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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