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College completion bill advances

The House Education Committee Wednesday voted 11-0 to pass House Bill 12-1155, the measure that proposes to increase college completion rates by creating a more flexible remediation system and by fine-tuning the incentives for students to finish college.

Montage of Colorado colleges
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

The measure is considered one of the more important higher education proposals of the 2012 legislative sessions, but it moved quickly and easily through the committee, with no testimony in opposition. (The education committees typically spend a lot more time on K-12 bills.)Among a number of provisions, the bill has three key features:

  • A requirement that the Colorado Commission on Higher Education fine-tune college entrance requirements to better identify students who may need remediation.
  • A policy change that would allow four-year colleges to offer more remediation, and to offer it in a more flexible way. College students who need remediation now typically have to take full classes for no credit, primarily at community colleges. The bill would allow four-year schools to provide targeted remediation to students – such as short-term tutoring in specific deficiencies – while they take regular college classes.
  • A reduction in the number of credit hours for which Colorado-resident students are eligible to receive state tuition discounts, known as College Opportunity Fund stipends. Students currently have a 145-hour limit on the number of credits they can take and receive the discount. The bill would reduce that number of 140 hours. (Basic arts and sciences degrees require 120 hours.)

But the credit hour reduction would require about $570,000 in state funding for colleges and universities to reprogram data systems.

Prime sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, told the committee he would be willing to drop the credit-hour provision – thereby eliminating the bill’s cost – if it would help the measure pass. The committee decided not to strip that provision of the bill, but Massey said he’d be willing to do it later in the legislative process if necessary.

Some 57.2 percent of Colorado students graduate within six years from four-year institutions, according to the Department of Higher Education. (That includes both students who stay at their original college and those who transfer. About 21 percent of community college students earn an associate’s degree or certificate. (See full graduation report here.)

Resources

The Education Committee also approved House Bill 12-1080, which would convert Adams State College to a university, and Senate Bill 12-048, which would rename Metro State as Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Testimony for both bills followed a familiar pattern, with college presidents, trustees, administrators, students and business leaders supporting the bills.

Supporters of both names changes argue that upgrading their institutions to “universities” will increase the value of degrees for alumni and graduates and eliminate confusion about whether the institutions are community colleges.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, voted against the Adams name change, saying he was unhappy the college hadn’t provided any information about what market research it did on the change. The Metro name changed passed unanimously.

Literacy bill jumps second hurdle

House Bill 12-1238, the big early childhood literacy bill, was approved 10-3 Wednesday morning by the House Appropriations Committee, setting it up for floor consider.

The measure, which would create a preference for holding back third graders with substandard reading skills, was the subject of a Monday House Education hearing that lasted more than seven hours (see story).

In addition to the retention provision, bill skeptics also have raised concerns about the bill’s potential costs. Those currently are estimated at $5.4 million, although backers of the measure are trying to find additional revenue.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, again raised questions about cost during the Appropriations Committee’s half-hour session. She and Boulder Democrats Claire Levy and Dickie Lee Hullinghorst were the only no votes.

For the record

The Senate gave final approval Wednesday to two education measures:

  • House Bill 12-1072, which would require state colleges and universities to develop systems for assessing students’ life and professional experience (such as military training and classes) and for awarding class credit for such experience.
  • House Bill 12-1061, which would require state agencies to develop data on workforce needs compared to higher education course offerings in order to inform college decisions about programs that might need to be changed or added.

The sole business for the Senate Education Committee Wednesday was House Bill 12-1081, a seemingly technical measure that would grant the Auraria Higher Education Center the same administrative and financial flexibility state colleges and universities received under a 2011 law.

But the bill was laid over for later consideration because of concern and confusion about whether the bill would allow administrators to convert employees now covered by the state personnel system into non-covered employees.

Scott Wasserman, head of the state employee group Colorado WINS, testified against the bill as introduced and also expressed concerns about how the 2011 law, House Bill 11-1301, has been implemented.

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