Despite student lobbying, general assembly only grants half of state university system’s request
College students from across the state lobbied Gov. Bill Ritter for more money towards higher education on Monday and added another voice to the contentious battle that has become the 2007-2008 state budget.
The state university system presented a study commissioned by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education stating that Colorado’s post-secondary institutions would need an additional $832 million for next year to be on par with other state schools across the country, of which the general assembly granted $49 million. The governor is asking that it be raised to $55 million, and a coalition of students from across the state, the Associated Students of Colorado, lobbied him for an additional $2.8 million.
To avoid any fighting over funds, each school has agreed to receive the same proportion of the allotted money for next year that it did for this year. If $49 million is all of the increase to Colorado universities the legislature approves, then under the agreement, CU would receive $15 million.
“It is absolutely dizzying,” Boulder County State Rep. Jack Pommer said. “Higher education in the state of Colorado is funded much like the Corleone family does business in ‘The Godfather.’ Either we don’t fund our schools, or the money is given out based on favoritism.”
Pommer, calling CU a near-private school, explained that the school receives less than 10 percent of its revenue from the state, and that many hurdles stand in the way of increasing that percentage.
“There are so many things that stack the odds against universities in terms of funding. Crowding out from protected cost areas like K-12, limits on Referendum C, higher education is actually prioritized pretty low right now,” said Ryan Biehle, a junior political science major and member of the ASC.
K-12 education funding is constitutionally protected in Colorado and will receive $2.87 billion of the state’s $6.81 billion general fund for 2007-2008, according to the general assembly budget committee report.
Both Pommer and Biehle said that at the time it was put to voters in 2005, Referendum C was propagandized and misinterpreted. Pommer explained that the bill brought in no new money into the state and that most of the money released by the TABOR suspension was going to state highways and health care because of a six percent growth limit on the state’s general funds.
“There are a number of issues with the Referendum C money that schools should be getting, and the biggest problem is that the state is hitting its six percent limit before enough money gets to the schools to recover from the hit we took a few years ago,” Biehle said.
CU took the largest state budget cuts after the recession of 2001, and rising tuition rates have been the main offset. According to the Office of Planning, Budget and Finance tuition for undergraduate residents and non-residents in 2000 before the recession was $2,444 and $15,224 respectively. For the 2006-2007 years, the average tuition for residents and non-residents has risen to $4,554 and $22,450.
According to the general assembly budget report, higher education took up 14.6 percent of the budget in 1997, which was $4.25 billion total. For 2007, the state budget is $6.81 billion, but higher education now receives 10.1 percent of that, which is $689 million of the general fund. Higher education funding is on a rebound from the recession, however, and is up from $591 million in 2003.
CU President Hank Brown and Colorado State University President Larry Penley have discussed proposing a sales tax increase to voters, but to Tim Taylor, president of Colorado Succeeds, a business group aimed at improving education in Colorado, the likelihood of a tax increase passage is bleak.
“Any attempt to address the educational systemic gridlock can only take effect with voter approval, and ballots are already crowded, the financial dilemma complex,” Taylor said in a prepared statement. “State funding continues to be caught in a web of overlapping and conflict fiscal limitations and mandates that will staff any attempts to help.”
Pommer echoed similar concerns, saying that higher education, as an unprotected cost to state, faces an uphill battle to gain ground.
“The system has been skewed against higher education and it is now much easier to defend that. We are losing resources, Nobel laureates are leaving the state, and it is getting to the point where the public must answer the question of whether or not we want higher education in Colorado,” Pommer said.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Cassie Hewlings at firstname.lastname@example.org.