Dec 19, 2010 9:29 PM by Andy Koen

Students bear brunt of state budget deficit

Parents in Colorado may want to start putting more money into their kids' college fund. Almost all of the universities and colleges in our state are considering double digit tuition increases next year to overcome cuts in state funding.

Jill Brake of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education worries that the legislature's decision to balance the state budet on the backs of colleges and universities is already pricing out students.

"Our college system really will be only for the elite because we will not be able to offer funding for financial aid and (the College Opportunity Fund) and some of those things," Brake said.

Senate Majority Leader John Morse, (D) Colorado Springs says he and his fellow lawmakers must balance the budget, and with a billion dollar deficit, higher education is low hanging fruit.

"Everything has gotten big cuts, but higher education isn't constitutionally or federal law protected and so therefore it is a pot of money that we have the option of cutting," Morse said.

Despite enrollment growth of 30 percent in the last decade, adminstrators at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs worry that the tuition increases they are considering will eventually make the school too expensive.

Vice Chancellor Brian Burnett says it would burden not only their ability to enroll new students but might force out current students who are in the middle of their degree programs.

"It's nothing that we relish or want to support," Burnett said.

Commissioner Brake points out the swelling enrollment in state community colleges as proof that a new generation of students is opting out of a 4 year education.

She worries that the demographic shift will dissuade prospective businesses from locating here.

"Not having an adequate, quality, affordable, accessible higher education system is really going to hurt Colorado in the long run."

Rather than cuts, she and the rest of the commission have recommended that lawmakers consider raising taxes. Morse says that's not likely.

"We can only cut, we can't raise taxes without a vote of the people," Morse said. "The people have voted at the state level to raise taxes once since 1992 and that was a cigarette tax in 2004."

But why not lower costs at the universities by limiting tenure, for example? Burnett says that would be a mistake because it would hamper their ability to recruit top quality educators.

"You're not going to be able to attract the type of faculty we want to bring to the University of Colorado if we don't have it as an option for them because it's something they've come to expect not just in Colorado but around the United States."


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