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Co-chairs named for higher ed strategic plan

Businessman Dick Monfort and lawyer Jim Lyons will be the co-chairs of the delayed higher education strategic planning effort, Gov. Bill Ritter announced Thursday.

Monfort is vice chair of the Colorado Rockies and a trustee of the University of Northern Colorado. Lyons is a member of Ritter’s advisory Jobs Cabinet and prominent in the Democratic Party.

No other firm details of the plan, such as the size of the steering committee, its membership, a meeting schedule or a completion date for the project were announced Thursday.

Ritter met briefly with three members of the Commission on Higher Education, several college presidents and higher ed Director Rico Munn, who were gathered at the Capitol for another meeting about a financial flexibility bill.

Since the idea first surfaced last summer, the outlines of the project have remained somewhat vague, its start has been pushed back and some have questioned the rationale for a study, given that the higher education system is in an immediate fiscal crisis and that Ritter is about to enter the last year of his first term and may face a tough re-election campaign.

On Dec. 3, Rico Munn, new director of the Department of Higher Education, gave members of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education s a three-page “concept paper” for the plan.

According to Munn’s memo, the strategic plan is designed to address what the state needs from its higher ed system, the current funding crisis, other challenges and its relationship to the K-12 system.

While that memo said, “the strategic planning process should be launched by a clear articulation of goals by the governor,” the statement issued by the governor’s office Thursday set out no specific goals for the process. Noting the importance of higher education to the state’s economy and growth, the governor said, “We need to look out 10, 20 and 30 years. And the only way we get there is with a vibrant higher-ed system that can meet the needs of a 21st century Colorado.”

Munn’s memo said the goals “could include some mix of” doubling the number of postsecondary degrees and certificates awarded (Ritter’s Colorado Promise), increase in overall postsecondary participation, a larger role for community colleges, “targeted” improvements in remediation and retention, developing “some measure” for affordability and accessibility and “a standard for efficiency and sustainability” of the state system.

The memo outlined a steering committee that would supervise the work of subcommittees. Munn said the steering committee would focus on developing accountability measures while the subcommittees would be organized by issues such as the future needs of higher ed, institutional roles, governance, accessibility, financial issues and coordination with the K-12 system.

John Karakoulakis, legislative affairs director for the Department of Higher Education, said Thursday the steering committee is expected to have about a dozen members and that Ritter hopes to name them “as soon as possible.” Karakoulakis said the plan still includes use of the subcommittees.

Munn told CCHE members earlier this month that the steering committee would periodically report back to them, and the final report would be done by the fall of 2010.

Karakoulakis said there currently are “no definitive timelines on when it [the planning process] will end or specific deliverables. … The specifics haven’t been laid out yet.”

Joint Budget Committee Chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, recently questioned the need for a strategic plan, noting that Ritter’s first term will be ending and that many are calling for action now to deal with higher ed’s financial crisis (see story about that meeting).

The idea of a strategic or master plan was first surfaced publicly last summer by then-DHE Director David Skaggs, who subsequently resigned over an unspecified disagreement with Ritter. Munn, already in the governor’s cabinet as head of a different agency, was subsequently plucked to head DHE.

Funding for the state’s 27 colleges and universities, not shielded from cuts by constitutional or federal requirements as some other programs are, has suffered during this decade’s two recessions. While state tax support has been cut, the system has been held at flat overall funding levels with federal stimulus money and a steady series of tuition hikes.

Only a relatively small amount of stimulus money will be available for the upcoming 2010-11 budget year and none after that. Looking ahead to that “cliff,” many college presidents have already made budget cuts, particularly in administrative costs.