23 October 2005

TABOR is Bad for Higher Education

If Referendums C and D fail, higher education will bear the brunt of the cuts, because it is the largest discretionary item in the state budget. This is on top of the cuts already made:

Public colleges in Colorado actually are receiving fewer state dollars this year, without factoring in inflation, than they have each year since 1997, despite having to educate nearly 30,000 more students. . . .

Since 2002, lawmakers have made more than $170 million in cuts to higher education, which will take $496 million from the state's general fund this year. The cuts included:

$153 million or 20 percent of funds used for colleges' operating costs, such as utility bills and professors' paychecks.

$6.3 million in grant programs, eliminating specific grants for technology, excellent-rated programs and rural students' access to college.

$9 million in financial aid grants, cutting need-based and work-study grants by 10 percent and merit grants by half.

$3 million or about a quarter of the funding of vocational training.

$1.4 million Almost all of the Council on the Arts programs, though half a million dollars was restored this year to capture matching federal dollars.

What lies ahead:

Colorado's college students would see average tuition for a four-year school increase to nearly $4,000 next year - a 13 percent hike - if voters reject Ref C.

If state funding eventually evaporates, the state's colleges would have to make up the difference with private fundraising and higher tuition - much higher tuition. Most likely to be hardest hit: people in the middle class, with too much money to qualify for major financial aid, but not enough disposable income to pay the higher tuition. . . . If current trends continue, the state's budget vise will squeeze state higher education funding out of existence by 2009. . . . A few community colleges might not survive . . . . It's a point of pride for Coloradans that the latest Census data show the state is fourth most highly educated, with one in three adults having a college degree. That pumps up the economy, keeping the stream of high-paying jobs flowing.

But the truth is, the state is importing those graduates.

Colorado does a poor job of sending its own residents to college - especially minority or poor kids. The state ranks 35th in sending low-income students to college, and 41st for minority students, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

In a study last year, the center said if Colorado could graduate and employ poor and minority college students at the same rates as other students, it would get $967 million more in tax revenue each year - almost three times the $365 million budget gap projected for next year if Ref C fails.

The State of Wyoming already runs radio ads making fun of Colorado's underfunded institutions of higher education. If C and D fail, we will soon be at the very bottom of the nation in higher education support, and that is a place where a dynamic, growing state should not be.

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