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CCHE’s hackles raised by flex bill

Member of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday raised questions – and eyebrows – about a proposed higher education flexibility bill, just 24 hours after a legislative study panel recommended the measure.

Of particular concern was a provision of the bill that basically would strip the CCHE of oversight over campus construction projects.

Both Vice Chair Hereford Percy and commissioner Happy Haynes zeroed in on that part of the measure.

“This goes right to the heart of what the function of the commission was supposed to be,” Percy said.

“This bill eliminates an important function of the commission … so we would welcome the opportunity to voice our opinion about it,” said Jim Polsfut, commission chair.

A number of commissioners raised concerns about the CCHE having a voice in the process.

Rico Munn, attending his first meeting since being named director of the Department of Higher Education, said, “this is a very rough form of some of the ideas” that came out of a recent meeting of college presidents and Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. Morse is a member of the Long-term Fiscal Stability Commission, a legislative study panel that Wednesday made its final recommendations, including a version of the higher ed flexibility bill.

Morse convened the presidents’ meeting to gather ideas for the proposal. Under current law, colleges must submit construction projects to CCHE for approval. The construction section of the bill merely would require that campuses notify CCHE and the legislative Capital Development Committee of their projects.

Commissioner Greg Stevinson said part of the reason the CCHE reviews construction programs was to “take the politics out of it.”

If the commission doesn’t prioritize projects, “what will happen from a practical standpoint [is] those with the strongest lobbyists will get to the head of the line” at the legislature. Ending commission review of projects would be “pretty stupid,” Stevinson said.

Munn said, “My understanding is that Sen. Morse and the institutions have expressed that they want something [a bill] that can be a consensus piece.”

(Morse said Wednesday that the bill was a starting point, needs review by a variety of interest groups and likely would be substantially changed once it starts moving through the 2010 legislative session.)

“I think we definitely need a voice at the table on this,” Percy said.

A commission advisor raised questions about another part of the bill. Alan Lamborn, a CSU administrator, was concerned about a provision that would mandate a schedule for state colleges and universities to create some common degree programs. “Where did this come from?” Lamborn said administrators around the state have been working on that issue and that changes probably should be handled in separate legislation. The state already has an extensive set of common courses and a wide variety of transfer agreements between various institutions.

On another matter, Munn said that while details of the delayed higher ed strategic planning process are still being ironed out, “my anticipation is that we launch that within the next 30 days.”

One thing that’s not part of the flexibility bill is any provision that would allow colleges to set their own tuition rates. Several college presidents have pushed for that as state tax support has plummeted. But Munn’s boss, Gov. Bill Ritter, doesn’t want any changes in tuition policy considered until after the higher ed strategic plan is done.

Text of proposed higher ed flexibility bill

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