State rep surveys ‘cliff’ on horizon for higher ed funding

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Posted Wed, Mar 17, 2010

DENVER – Rep. Mark Ferrandino skimmed the top of the higher education budget issues during the Lunch with Lawmakers event, hosted by the UCD office of student life.

The Democrat from state house district 2 (which comes close to touching Auraria campus on Colfax Avenue) and a member of the Joint Budget Committee relayed to students some of the difficult decisions facing the legislature this year. The four largest cuts include K-12 education, health care, corrections and higher education.

“We are facing a cliff in higher education funding in the next couple of years,” Ferrandino said. “The question is, ‘How do we continue to fund higher education if the economy doesn’t recover fast and we still see increase in K-12 spending?’”

The state has $18 billion in the general fund, which supports 43 percent of the K-12 budget. The general fund is also where higher education receives most of its money. The current shortfall for higher ed. is $2 billion for the 2010-2011 budget and next year the state faces up to $1.5 billion.

To make up for the deficit in this year’s budget, the state was assisted through federal stimulus dollars. But next year when the funds dry up, the legislature is looking at other ways to raise revenue or to cut services.

“This is your future and this is your state. Do we want to provide these services to the people and if so, are we willing to pay for it and who’s going to pay for it?” Ferrandino said.

According to Ferrandino, Colorado has one of the lowest tax rates in the nation.

 The representative said there could be future ballot questions asking for feedback on the issue and the legislature will continue to discuss the topic.

One of Ferrandino’s talking points includes Colorado on its way to becoming a state that would “defund higher education.”

“If we do nothing, we’re on a path so that we’re not going to support higher education,” Ferrandino said.

Ferrandino also mentioned the various models to solve the funding question, such as the “high tuition, high aid” model that has already been implemented in California.

The model relies on families earning $70,000 a year to pay 30 percent of their tuition.

A recent idea floating around the Colorado legislature is “tuition flexibility” — having a public institution raise tuition without state approval.

“One of the problems we have in higher education is mission creep,” Ferrandino said. “Metro has a very unique situation of being an access institution. When we look at how to solve the higher education problem, we need to look at what is the role of each institution and how do we make sure those roles are fulfilled.” 

Ferrandino said the legislature will continue to look at the essential goals each school provides and will consider their decisions to cut their state funding based on those services.

“It needs to be done in a way that we are true to the mission and we understand the missions. What works at [the University of Colorado] doesn’t work for community colleges. We need to look at the entire spectrum,” Ferrandino said. 

Ferrandino said he was pleased to see the rally at the Capitol March 3 and students getting more involved with the lawmaking process. State support for higher education is also important to Ferrandino.

Students brought up various other ways the state can look at funding, such as legalizing marijuana as a way to increase tax revenue and amending the Colorado constitution to protect higher education.

Ferrandino agrees taxing marijuana is an option but opposes the rigidity of implementing a constitutional amendment because of the shifts in economy.

The Lunch with Lawmakers event series rotates hosting responsibilities among the three schools in the Auraria community. Assistant Director of UCD Student Life Tom Sherdian helped host Ferrandino as a speaker to bring the issue of higher education budget cuts to the students.

 Sherdian also hopes to host various lawmakers from the two sides of the aisle as budget issues unfold.

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