Friday, October 1, 2010

When Will Colorado Start Paying the Price on Higher Ed?

Over at Pols a poster notes the fortcoming budgetary doom and gloom and looks at Higher Education funding in particular,
$4.4 billion has been cut from our state budget since the start of the Great Recession. When speaking on a funding allocation that the Colorado Commission on Higher Education would send to the legislature, Commissioner Greg Stevinson wanted to send a message, "that we just can't take any more cuts....We're cut to the bone."

For someone who pays close attention to our state budget, every year feels like "Groundhog Day". Our state, more than any other, significantly relied on federal stimulus dollars to back-fill our higher education budget. With the cessation of Stimulus dollars and a billion dollar shortfall, the 2011-12 fiscal year could eliminate all state support for higher education. This is a foregone conclusion if Amendments 60, 61 or Proposition 101 pass. Our state's constitutional funding mandates have made higher education the prime target for cuts. If the last decade set any precedence for what the legislature will do, students and families can expect the cost of higher education shift to them.
Colorado's support for higher education is already dismal. We are dead last in the nation in the funding of public four-year colleges. Since 1980, state support for higher education has decreased 70 percent. Per $1000 dollars of income, Coloradans pay $3.20 towards higher education, compared to a national average of $12.28. (View the HESP draft and background material for in-depth statistics) 

Colorado has largely avoided any consequences for the dismal state of it's higher education funding in part because we import so many of our residents. We have a highly educated workforce in this state, but they are educated elsewhere and move to Colorado for the quality of life. My hope is that as those young professionals grow into adults with families and children who need to go to college the seriousness of our state's fiscal morass, and the higher ed issue in particular, will become a bigger issue with the electorate. Because right now it doesn't feel like anyone cares if we become the only state in the nation with fully privatized higher ed.


c rork said...

Thank you so much for featuring the article I wrote!

Let us hope that our new Governor and Legislature have the courage to admit that we are in a revenue crisis that we can't cut our way out of.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

It is hard to see any better choices for legislatures handcuffed as they are by our state constitution on budget issues. The Governor and the JBC don't have a lot of good options.

I have some dim hope that if anyone can craft a way out of the straightjacket that is TABOR and sell the public on it, that it is John Hickenlooper. But, voters are very cagey when it comes to taxes and the fact that Democrats can't unilaterally raise taxes without voter approval is one of the reasons that the tax and spend campaigns that have been used against Democrats elsewhere haven't been very effective politically in Colorado.

A budget that effectively privatized Colorado higher ed might be what it would take to mobilize the mostly middle class voters who benefit from state funding for higher education to unite around a proposal that would give higher education a secure earmarked source of revenue that would take the bulls eye off of it in times of tight state budgets.