Colorado Colleges Must Slash $30 Million
January 16, 2009
By Berny Morson
Rocky Mountain News
College students could see deep changes in the way tuition is formulated as a result of the looming budget cuts announced Friday, some key lawmakers believe.
A new strategy would mean higher tuition for some students to offset the budget cuts. But some of the additional money would go to financial aid to keep college affordable for disadvantaged students.
Trying to keep tuition down while repeatedly chopping state aid to the schools can only erode the quality of education, Rep. Jack Pommer, D- Boulder, vice chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said Friday.
"We're essentially consuming these universities," Pommer said of the state's four research institutions.
He added: "We can probably get another 20 years out of them before they're essentially worthless."
Higher education must cut $30 million from the budget for the current school year, with more proposed cuts to be released next Friday.
Higher education was slashed during the last recession, at the beginning of this decade. Funding still has not climbed back to 2002 levels when amounts are adjusted for inflation, according to the governor's budget office.
For years, Colorado's college presidents have been seeking more management flexibility, including more leeway in setting tuition, which is capped annually in the state spending bill. Lawmakers, including budget committee members such as Pommer, have been saying for several weeks that they're open to more flexibility for the colleges.
University of Colorado President Bruce Benson said Friday, "Give us some freedom. We will be responsible. We will be accountable, and we will damn sure keep it affordable for our citizens."
CU will absorb nearly $8 million of the $30 million cut to higher education, under the proposal that went from the governor's office to the budget committee Friday.
Benson said CU started looking at savings last March, when businesses began reporting financial problems. Some CU jobs have gone unfilled since last summer.
Gov. Bill Ritter said he's not ready to endorse a flexibility plan until he sees details.
Even the $30 million cut protects most of the gains that have been made in higher education funding over the last two years, Ritter said.
College tuition increased 9 percent this year at the state's four research schools - CU, Colorado State University, University of Northern Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines. Other four-year schools and community colleges saw lesser increases.
Budget committee members, who draft the annual state spending bill, had been looking at similar increases for next year.