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Commentary: Government cuts = higher tuition

This commentary was written by David Svaldi, president of Adams State College in Alamosa.

Our nation must address the problem of rising college tuition. In a January speech at the University of Michigan, President Obama cautioned institutions that continuing tuition increases could potentially result in loss of federal funds. He was clearly appealing to college and university students, as well as those recently graduated – a constituency that he carried easily in the 2008 election.

For this generation, student loan debt dwarfs any other debt. The national average student loan debt is above $25,000 – 47 percent higher than a decade ago – with many students at elite institutions graduating with debt in six figures.

In his January State of Union Address, President Obama implied that he favored some sort of maintenance of effort by the states as a condition of federal support for public institutions. Indeed, the rapid increases in tuition at public institution are a direct result of state funding cuts.

As recently as eight years ago, Colorado funded roughly two-thirds of tuition costs; students paid the remaining third, either directly, or through grants, loans, or scholarships. Now this formula is reversed. Students increasingly rely on loans to bridge the gap between what they can afford and what scholarships and grants cover. All public Colorado institutions have been forced to dramatically increase tuition, thanks to state funding cuts.

But there is little optimism that Colorado will restore lost state funding for higher education. The populace has firmly said “no” to any tax increases that would prevent future reductions in higher education budgets (as well as K-12). A recent study by the American Council of Education concluded that if current nationwide trends continue as states balance (or try to balance) their budgets, by 2022 Colorado would completely eliminate its funding of higher education, making us the first state to achieve this unenviable distinction.

Citizens need to understand that state and federal reductions in higher education support directly impact tuition costs at public universities. If Coloradans cannot agree on solutions for continued funding, most low-income and even middle-income students in Colorado will be priced out of their dream of a college education (or be stuck with loan debt they can never repay).

As I await the arrival of my first grandchild, I wonder if he/she will have the opportunity for the same good life I have had – all because as a Colorado citizen, I had access to an affordable college education.

About our First Person series:

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