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Bill would give colleges greater freedom

A bill introduced in the House Tuesday would give state colleges and universities greater autonomy in use of student fees, personnel matters and construction projects, plus additional flexibility in other administrative areas.

House Bill 11-1301 has bipartisan sponsorship and is being pushed by the University of Colorado, according to several higher education lobbyists. The House prime sponsor is Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs and assistant majority leader. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass and a former CU regent.

The bill has been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee, not to House Education.

The overall thrust of the bill appears to reduce the number of Colorado Commission on Higher Education and other state agency requirements that institutions now have to meet.

Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder
Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder
J. Zubrzycki

Provisions of the 43-page measure would:

  • Specify that guaranteed tuition contracts cover tuition, not fees.
  • Give governing boards greater control over student fees and reduce the role of the CCHE in that area.
  • Remove the requirement that the commission approve institution plans to set up non-profit arms.
  • Give governing boards the power to indemnify their contractors.
  • Give institutions greater autonomy in their information security programs.
  • Allow institutions greater freedom to dispose of surplus property and discretion in making purchases from correctional industries.
  • Allow college presidents greater freedom to create positions not covered the state personnel system, hire contractors, rehire retired employees for longer periods of time, offer employee incentive programs and authorize administrative leave for classified employees.
  • Provide colleges greater freedom in handling construction projects, including removal of the current requirement that colleges get student input if they want to use tuition revenue as security for auxiliary facilities.

A 2009 law gave state colleges additional flexibility in handling their construction projects, and a 2010 law gave them significantly expanded power to set tuition rates – but with the oversight of CCHE.

The 2010 higher education plan developed by a citizen panel recommended a stronger regulatory role for CCHE, an idea that’s been resisted both publicly and privately by some college presidents.

Some presidents, especially Bruce Benson of CU, also repeatedly have cited steadily declining tax support for higher education as an important reason for giving colleges more freedom to manage their own finances

Counselor Corps gets its funding back

Proposed 2011-12 funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps has been on a roller coaster ever since budget deliberations starts months ago.

The Joint Budget Committee proposed cutting it to about $2.5 million, the Senate bumped it back to $5 million and the House took the number back down to $2.5 million.

Tuesday, meeting as a conference committee to reconcile the different House and Senate versions of Senate Bill 11-209, the long appropriations bill, the JBC voted 4-2 to restore $5 million for the corps.

The final version of the budget still has to be approved by both houses. But by this time of the session, the other 94 lawmakers are so sick of the budget they usually agree to the JBC’s compromise version.

The committee deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to restore $30,000 in funding for family literacy centers, another Department of Education program.

Two studies advance, two die

The Legislative Council gathered first thing Tuesday morning for a new job – prioritizing and then voting on bills and resolutions that propose various legislative studies to be done after the session ends.

Three related to education were on the list of 12.

Approved was Senate Bill 11-111, which proposes a study of how to help students negotiate school transitions (like middle to high school) and how to reduce college remediation rates. Also approved was Senate Bill 11-133, which proposes a study of school discipline methods and which methods are inappropriately used.

The panel defeated House Bill 11-1184, which proposed studying of new ways to fund higher education. Also defeated was Senate Joint Resolution 11-033, which proposed a panel to review a University of Denver tax study that a previous legislature requested. That study isn’t finished.

While Legislature Council long had had a role in deciding which interim studies are supported with legislative funds and staff, a recent law has given it expanded power to prioritize projects and vote them up or down, just like a regular committee in either house.

So, members were feeling their way through the sometimes-cumbersome process, punctuated by jokes and laughter during the more confused portions of the 90-minute session.

The measures that survived Tuesday’s review still have to be passed by the full House and Senate to go into effect.

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