Support for higher ed

A GROUP of higher education supporters is hoping to increase funding for the state s colleges and universities.

The need is evident. When the post-9/11 recession hit, the first budgets that the Legislature cut were for higher education and highways.

The state s budget allocation to higher education has dropped from 14.6 percent in fiscal 1997 to 10.1 percent in fiscal 2007. Put another way, the institutions would need $832 million in extra state support each year just to meet average state funding levels of peer institutions nationwide, according to a recent study.

Colorado Succeeds, a non-partisan group of business leaders, is leading the effort to persuade lawmakers that they must spend more on higher education. A member of the group, Bruce Benson, notes that, We are not serving people in our state by not providing the proper funding for higher education. Mr. Benson is the CEO of Benson Mineral Group and chairman of the trustees of Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Colorado University President Hank Brown adds that state colleges receive just 65 percent of the funding that their peers across the country do, while research universities receive only about 35 percent.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education is seeking a $100 million increase for higher education for each of the next five years. That would be a start.

President Brown is drawing up a plan for the future of higher education in Colorado that he plans to submit to the CCHE and the Legislature in coming weeks. He notes that the public will have to support such efforts in order for them to succeed.

With extra funding, though, should be an equitable division of the new money. It would do no good to starve smaller, out-of-state institutions just to prop up the large universities in the northern part of the state.

Additionally, we don t believe there would be much public consensus simply to raise taxes for the colleges. Voters already have approved Amendment C, which is allowing the state to retain what money it otherwise would have to refund under the TABOR Amendment – now estimated to be $5 billion in extra money over the next five years.

That means legislators will have to make wise choices on the state s budget. We urge Gov.-elect Bill Ritter to put added focus on the issue when he addresses the Legislature.