Higher Ed on the Chopping Block

(04-07-2009)

Opinion by Dr. David Svaldi

You can predict that every time the business cycle takes a downturn, Colorado's colleges and universities will take a hit. This time the proposed cut is huge, with approximately $403 million being chopped from an initial $708 million budget. Adams State College's share of this proposed cut is over $8 million dollars -- somewhat more than an AIG CEO bonus, but a drop in the bucket that used to be Colorado's Higher Education's budget, now three-quarters empty.

I know there is a proposed fix that between some Federal stimulus funds and raiding the PINNACOL reserve may keep us afloat for another year. However, if legislation designed to raid this fund isn't successful, Colorado will not qualify for the stimulus funds, as support for higher education will drop below the legal requirement.

Adams State will be in a hell of a fix. Some will say we can raise our tuition to make up the difference. It's ironic that some of the very folks proposing to foist a huge tuition increase on Colorado college and university students are those who oppose tax increases for any reason.

But our college students will not get an opportunity to vote on these increases and -- whatever happens with the state budget -- many will be faced with double-digit tuition and fee increases. Many students will vote with their feet and find they cannot afford college at exactly the time they need to be preparing to help clean up the mess previous generations have made of the national economy and the nation.

We are seeing the beginning of the end of state-supported higher education in Colorado. The larger institutions with diverse streams of revenue will survive, and in doing so will become an even more expensive proposition for Coloradans. Smaller, rural institutions like Adams State may not make it, and the regions we serve will become even more economically depressed. The results will be loss of population and loss of state tax revenue. Even worse, we will severely limit the opportunity for poor and first-generation college students to earn a college education.

Someone at the capitol needs to stand up and provide long-term thinking and leadership. The one year fix, if successful, will only postpone a substantial funding cut. Who is thinking beyond the next election to safeguard Colorado's future? What happened to the Colorado Promise? It seems hollow at the moment.