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CCHE can’t pull trigger on funding plan

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday deadlocked on a proposed model for allocating tax funds to state college and universities, delaying a decision until Sept. 8 and putting a squeeze on institutions that might want to ask for tuition increases of more than 9 percent for 2011-12.

The commission wrestled for nearly two hours and heard testimony that indicated wide unhappiness with the proposed model among major institutions.

All possible 2011-12 higher ed funding models would mean cuts in state tax support, but there’s much disagreement about how to spread the pain.

While a commission decision on allocation is important for the state and institutional planning, it by no means will be the final word on how much support colleges will receive and how much tuition students will pay in 2011-12. Those ultimately will depend on the strength of state revenues in the coming months and budget decisions by the 2011 legislature.

Under a law passed by the 2010 legislature, colleges may raise tuition 9 percent every year for the five years starting in 2011-12. Institutions may seek permission from CCHE for larger increases.

So, the commission has been trying to come up with a proposed campus-by-campus allocation of state funds so institutions have a better idea how much more tuition to request. The deadline for those applications is Oct. 1.

On Thursday the commission received a Department of Higher Education recommendation for how to allocate funds in 2011-12, assuming a high of $555 million in state support and a low of $450 million.

Metro State President Steve Jordan defended the proposed funding model.
Metro State President Steve Jordan defended the proposed funding model.

The plan would definitely create winners and losers, with changes in state support ranging from a cut of 37.2 percent at the Colorado School of Mines to an increase of 3.7 percent at the community college system. Built into the proposal is the assumption that some institutions would be allowed to raise tuition to cover the loss in state funds. (See chart for more details.)

Many institutions aren’t buying the idea.

Kay Norton, president of the University of Northern Colorado, led the critics, telling the commission, “There are such significant flaws in the approach before you today that I felt I needed to come talk to you.” UNC would lose 25 percent of its state funding in 2011-12 under the DHE proposal. “We would recommend you take another look and some more time,” Norton said.

Representatives of the University of Colorado and Colorado State University systems, Mines and career and technical schools also came to the microphone to criticize the proposal.

But Steve Jordan, president of Metropolitan State College, said, “I’m actually here to support the formula.” The proposal would give extra funding (meaning smaller cuts) to Metro, Mesa State College, Mines, the community colleges and local district junior colleges to account for strong enrollment growth at those schools. Metro’s cut would be only 7.1 percent. In recent years Metro has been financially penalized because higher ed budgets have failed to account for enrollment growth.

Metro State President Steve Jordan defended the proposed funding model.
Metro State President Steve Jordan defended the proposed funding model.

“I think at some point we have to recognize the very significant impact enrollment has,” Jordan said.

The six commission members went back and forth on the issue for quite some time, but a motion to accept the staff recommendation failed on a 3-3 vote.

Commissioner BJ Scott, participating in the meeting on speakerphone, wondered if the institutions could come up with a single counterproposal by the CCHE’s Sept. 8 meeting.

Colorado’s colleges are a notoriously fractious bunch, and Chair Jim Polsfut, smiling, said, “In a perfect world.”

A few minutes later, Polsfut said, “We must take action on this by the next meeting. … At the Sept. 8 meeting we will take a vote on this issue.”

Although the meeting was one of the commission’s most important of the year, four members didn’t attend. They were Larry Beckner, Jill Brake, Mike Plachy and Greg Stevinson. Patricia Pacey was present for much of the meeting but left before the vote on the funding plan.

There also were several absentees at the CCHE meeting last month, when allocation was discussed.

In other action

In other business, the commission voted unanimously to oppose proposed Amendment 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, the Doug Bruce-inspired measures that would severely limit the ability of state and local governments to raise revenue and incur debt.

The commission also approved creation of a committee – which will include students – to study the issue of student fees. While tuition increases receive most of the attention, fees also have risen dramatically in recent years. According to DHE documents, fee increases over the last five years have been as high as 99.5 percent, at Adams State College (see full report).

Previous EdNews story on 2011-12 funding issues

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