Colleges may face funding crisis |

Colleges may face funding crisis

Steven K. Paulson
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS ” Colorado is “living on borrowed time” because of deep cuts in higher education over the past decade, and colleges need to find a way to make the case to taxpayers for more funding, the state’s chief university official said Friday.

If Colorado fails to come up with a solution, the funding gap will eventually take a huge economic toll, said David Skaggs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Skaggs, speaking at an education summit with business leaders, college and university presidents and others, said Colorado employers are hiring educated workers from other states or countries.

He said that cannot continue indefinitely because other states are competing for the same resources.

Skaggs compared the problem to the national deficit, with the United States spending more money in other countries than it gets in return, forcing the U.S. to borrow against its future.

“We are living on borrowed time,” Skaggs said.

Skaggs said higher education in Colorado suffered over the past decade not because it was an easy target for budget makers, but because it failed to make the case for more funding. He said before taxpayers will shell out more money, they need to be told how the state plans to raise the $848 million it will take over the next 10 years to close the gap with peer institutions in other states, and they need to be shown a measurable improvement in productivity.

“We have not yet made a compelling case for public support,” he said.

He said college financial planners will come up with proposals to increase efficiency and educators will come up with proposals to measure improvement before the end of this year. He hopes to have a plan to present to state lawmakers when they convene in January.

A study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems compared Colorado research institutions, four-year colleges and community colleges with similar institutions and determined that Colorado institutions get only 63 percent of the funding their peers receive.

The report said in order to fund all state institutions at the national average, it would require $848 million in today’s dollars ” $524 million for research facilities, $222 million for four-year colleges and $102 million for community colleges.

Center spokesman Dennis Jones told educators Colorado already has a shortage of nurses and engineers, and that will get worse unless the state takes action.

He said the state can continue to import workers, but “the question is whether that’s good policy.”

“The future of this state depends on educated people,” he said.

Skaggs said he will leave it to lawmakers and other policy planners to determine the best way to pay for it. Possibilities include increased tuition, increased fees, increased severance taxes from the oil and gas boom, sales taxes and other revenues.

Independent pollster Floyd Ciruli said voters have shown they are willing to approve new taxes if they can be shown the need. He said voters are also well aware that higher education took a major hit over the past decade and lawmakers have an opportunity now to fix it because the economy has improved.

“If they can prove they need more money not just because they deserve it but because they can provide a better product, these are issues the Republicans and Democrats can agree on,” Ciruli said.

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