Nov 052009
 
Authors: Kirsten Silveira

As Colorado braces itself for Gov. Bill Ritter’s release of the 2010-2011 state budget today, university and state officials said they are focused on cushioning the cuts higher education is projected to face.

In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Colorado higher education faced nearly $500 million in cuts, which kept the state ranked 49th in the nation for funding. And for FY10, the projected revenue shortfall is estimated at $560.7 million.

Ritter is looking to launch a year-long strategic planning process that would explore all areas of Colorado higher education in an attempt to find a solution to the crippling cuts, said Holly Shrewsbury, spokesperson for the governor, in an e-mail to the Collegian.

“(He) has prevented skyrocketing tuition hikes and has kept college affordable for all,” Shrewsbury said.

CSU-System Chancellor Joe Blake said in a phone interview last week that the CSU Board of Governors is “scoping out” a series of options to generate revenue and keep CSU-Fort Collins from falling victim to budget cuts. He said that while he is certain the state will fund the university in the next fiscal year, he didn’t know how much money will be available.

The BOG has “a range of hypotheticals,” to mitigate future cuts BOG spokesperson Michele McKinney said in a phone interview with the Collegian last week. Preliminary ideas include:

Restructuring funding to the university,

Privatizing portions of the CSU system and removing it from state control,

Consolidating all colleges into research or community college systems,

Partnering with other Colorado colleges to save higher education and

Designing legislation that gives the board funding flexibility to ensure the system’s survival throughout the cuts.

“CSU is not proposing to do anything right now – we’re looking at what the state would have to do if it got into the landscape where it couldn’t fund higher education,” McKinney said.

John Straayer, a CSU political science professor, said a better way to soften the blows to the budget, which he said calls “yet another unfortunate consequence of a very dysfunctional fiscal policy,” would be convince Colorado voters of the importance of higher education and the need for more funding.

Until Colorado lawmakers stop “dodging” politically risky conversations with their constituents, institutions of higher education will continue to “nickel and dime (themselves) into fiscal survival,” he said.

Wednesday, a state finance committee released possible legislature proposing a method to increase revenue to universities to cope with what Colorado Senator Rollie Heath, D-18, said are “severe” budget cuts that “certainly (won’t) change in the near future.”

The bill, which was introduced to the committee, the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission, Wednesday and has yet to be debated, aims to:

Allows colleges to enroll more international students,

Increase university flexibility on financial aid distribution, and

Allow for a university to adopt its own financial reporting rules.

Heath, chair of the commission, said the proposed changes, which will directly affect administrative processes within Colorado colleges, have just started on a long road to becoming state law.

If made legislation, the bill will allow financial departments within colleges and universities to change the form in which they submit annual reports and help university officials to man the system more efficiently, he said.

“Most of this is not germane to a students day-to-day worries,” Heath said, later adding, “To your students, this is all in-house baseball.”

Straayer said that he is sure CSU officials would like to see reporting regulations relaxed because of the “burdensome” nature reporting every detail of fiscal spending.

“You have to have some level of data gathering at a public university, but I’m not sure how much of the information is actually used in Denver,” Straayer said.

CSU President Tony Frank said Thursday that regardless of what is being called a “relaxed” approach to fiscal reporting, nothing will change the “gold standards of financial transparency” the CSU administration is dedicated to upholding.

Frank said while there are some nice perks — streamlining spending approval processes for capital construction — in the bill that would increase CSU’s efficiency without “jeopardizing public transparency,” the bill does not have the power to eliminate the cloud of concerns surrounding public higher education in Colorado.

“This is not the solution to all the higher education problems; it’s still out there, and it should still be the main topic on everyone’s agenda.”

Senior Reporter Kirsten Silveira can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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