UCSU, state legislature work together on funding for higher education
In true democratic fashion, it looks like UCSU’s “Show Me the Money” campaign might be paying big dividends for CU students in the future.
Colorado is currently ranked 48th in funding for higher education nationally, but “Show Me the Money” aims to change that. The campaign, organized by UCSU and working with the Associated Students of Colorado, is supposed to help defray rising costs for students at higher education institutions across the state by lobbying state legislators to increase state funding.
The campaign kicked off this semester in the wake of UCSU’s panel on tuition on Jan. 29, and organizers are saying it is already starting to show some results.
“We’ve been making progress towards what we want to see,” said Jesse Jensen, a senior political science major and UCSU co-director of legislative affairs.
Jensen has been working with UCSU and the ASC for some time now on the campaign, lobbying members of the Colorado General Assembly and organizing a student rally at the state capital on March 3. He and other organizers said the campaign stalled a bit during the confirmation process of CU President Bruce Benson, but now they are getting back on track.
“It’s been a good year for higher education,” said Ryan Biehle, a senior political science major and UCSU chief of staff.
Biehle said that Gov. Bill Ritter recently proposed an 8.6 percent increase for higher education funding across Colorado. Biehle said the increase was primarily motivated by the results of a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. The NCHEMS study, commissioned by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, shows that CU is further behind in funding compared to its peer institutions nationwide than other Colorado universities are compared to their peers.
In light of these results, the organizers of the campaign are planning to hold a “Merit Day” sometime in April that would bring Colorado legislators to CU for the students to talk to them in person. Biehle said that politicians need to be aware of the impact the funding crisis is having on students.
“Legislators need to know that students are personally affected by this,” Biehle said. “It’s not just a budget crisis, it’s a personal crisis.”
CU students are getting some help from people in the academic and political world as well.
Hollie Stevenson, CU’s executive director of state and federal government relations, said the governor’s proposed increase would give $48.5 million to higher education centers statewide, with $15 million going to the CU system. Stevenson said she has been working to make sure that money ends up in the state’s budget bill and that the governor’s office supports the goals of students.
“The students have definitely had an impact on the governor’s office and the general assembly,” Stevenson said. “The governor and the general assembly do want to support higher education.”
State Sen. Ron Tupa, vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Education, has said he also supports student involvement in the discussion on higher education funding. Tupa, who represents Colorado’s 18th senate district, which includes Boulder and CU, said he would like to see students become more involved in the political process and become “regular fixtures” at the Capitol.
“The old saying is true, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Tupa said.
Tupa also said that legislators have started taking higher education funding seriously lately because of the publicity over the state’s low ranking.
“The legislative sentiment has certainly changed over the last three or four years,” Tupa said. “Nothing like collective shame to spur politicians and legislators to action.”
Tupa said he would like to see some progress made toward resolving the funding crisis soon as this is his final year as a senator.
Tupa has previously supported a wide variety of measures to increase funding for higher education, including using money from the Colorado Lottery and an oil and gas severance tax. He is also working on a state constitutional amendment that would allow casinos in Colorado to raise their betting limits from $5 to $100, with the increase going towards higher education.
Tupa said he was cautiously optimistic that some form of legislation might pass this session and that he would consider all the options before deciding which to finally support.
“There are creative ways we can address the issue this legislative session,” he said.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Rob Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.