CU needs business acumen that Regent candidate Ken Montera brings, with multi-billion dollar business background, Montera says | VailDaily.com

CU needs business acumen that Regent candidate Ken Montera brings, with multi-billion dollar business background, Montera says

CU Regent candidate Ken Montera says he would bring a career of experience in handling billion-dollar budgets to the University of Colorado's Board of Regents.

EDWARDS — College should be affordable, and before CU increases costs, those asking for the price hikes should prove that it benefits students, says Ken Montera.

Montera, a Republican with decades running large and diverse corporations, is running for the University of Colorado's Board of Regents. Lesley Smith, his Democratic opponent, spent her career in Boulder as a member of the CU faculty and research staff.

Affordability is top priority

Montera calls college affordability his top priority. CU needs more money, as do all Colorado's colleges. He said he can help CU get there in three ways:

1. Managing their money more efficiently.

2. Increasing donations by spreading the word about CU's success.

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3. Increasing state funding, which will be the most problematic of the three, Montera says.

Montera spent his career running multibillion-dollar budgets.

He calculated that if CU could sift 2 percent from its $12 billion operating budget, it could mean $90 million toward reducing student expenses. Montera said his experience with budgets that size is that any organization with a $12 billion budget probably has room for 2 percent, Montera said.

"I have not seen a multibillion-dollar budget that didn't have some wiggle room. The Board of Regents needs someone with acumen in handling budgets of that magnitude," Montera said. "We need to make sure we spend each dollar as frugally as we possibly can."

Montera has criss-crossed the state talking to voters. He says by a 10-to-1 margin, parents' biggest concerns are the cost of education, how they'll afford it and whether it's worth the investment, Montera said.

Costs should be managed through cost benefit analyses, he said. Students also need to understand that not all degree programs provide the same job opportunities.

Value of a degree

College costs also skyrocket when students don't graduate on time, forcing them to pay for another year or two. At CU, 46 percent of students finish in four years; for students of color it's 39 percent, Montera said.

"Colleges don't do a good enough job helping students and families understand the value of their degree, as well as the potential ramifications on the cost side, and the career side," Montera said. "They should understand the job prospects their degree will provide, and whether they'll need advanced degrees."

Students and the universities they attend must both understand the potential return on their investments, Montera said.

Third generation Coloradan

Montera is a third-generation Coloradan who grew up in a working-class Pueblo family. He attended CU Boulder on a Presidential Leadership Award — a partial scholarship.

"The rest came from my working mom and me working part time," he said.

He graduated CU's Leeds School of Business and went on to a 33-year career in corporate America, including high-ranking positions at companies such as Baxter, PepsiCo, and Johnson & Johnson. CU Boulder "opened my eyes on what was possible," he said.

"I've had an outstanding career and a great life. I owe something to my community and my alma mater," Montera said. "It felt like it was the right thing to do."

He has already helped create two endowments for the university, he said.

"I believe what I've done is exactly what the Board of Regents does on a regular basis," Montera said.

Regents' responsibilities

The next CU Board of Regents will choose the next university president. Bruce Benson, an 80-year-old Republican and fundraising machine, was appointed on a party-line vote of the regents — 6 to 3, in 2008. Benson is retiring in July.

The Board of Regents also handles a $4.5 billion budget, sets tuition rates, degree programs and develops and oversees policy for the CU system.

Statewide, the University of Colorado system includes 67,000 students, 9,149 faculty members and 13,835 non-faculty staffers.

One regent is elected from each of Colorado's seven congressional districts. Two are elected at-large from the entire state. Regents serve staggered six-year staggered terms, setting policy for the university's four campuses: Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver and the Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora.

Three regent seats are up in this election: Montera vs. Smith for the statewide at-large seat, Republican incumbent Glen Gallegos vs. Democratic challenger Alvin Rivera for District 3 encompassing most of Western Colorado, and District 5 a Republican stronghold encompassing Colorado Springs.

For now, the Board of Regents runs 5-4 with a Republican majority.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.