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Higher ed commission signs off on new funding model

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday gave unanimous approval to a new formula that would fund state colleges and universities based partly on performance factors such as student retention and graduation and service to low-income students.

The new model would create a much more defined and transparent way of funding higher education than has been the case in the past. The plan, required by a 2014 law, now goes to the Joint Budget Committee and the full legislature, which will have the final say both on the formula and how much state support goes to campuses in 2015-16.

The model would give every institution more money in 2015-16, but the percentage increases would vary, which hasn’t always been the case in past years.

“Some institutions would get considerably more of the increase than others,” Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told the commission before the vote. Garcia also is director of the Department of Higher Education.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing an overall 10 percent higher education funding increase for 2015-16. Under the new model, every institution would receive an increase of at least 10 percent, while some could receive up to 15 percent. Metropolitan State University, which has been relatively disadvantaged by previous funding allocations, would see the largest percentage gain.

The budget proposal includes $15 million in “transition” funding to help institutions that wouldn’t otherwise get a 10 percent increase under the calculations of the formula. That transition funding was a key element of gaining support for the funding model from all the state’s campuses and systems. The governor’s budget proposal “made this something everybody can live with,” Garcia said.

The lieutenant governor noted, “If the Joint Budget Committee decides to make adjustments, that frankly would upset this delicate balance.”

Budget committee members got their first formal look at the model Thursday morning, before CCHE voted.

Committee analyst Amanda Bickel praised the department’s work to create the model and in following the requirements set by the 2014 legislature.

Bickel’s briefing paper noted, “The model alone is unlikely to transform institutional behavior” and noted the model is yet to be tested.

Referring to the legislative debates to come, JBC chair Sen. Kent Lambert said, “We may have a variance of opinion or a variance of agreement about how this is going to work.” The Colorado Springs Republican was a sponsor of the bill that led to the model.

Although state support of higher education has recovered modestly in the last two years, most observers agree the new model doesn’t solve college funding challenges. Tuition and fees have risen rapidly in the last decade as state support has dropped, and tuition remains the largest source of higher education support.

The department is still tweaking details of the model and will submit a revised request to the legislature by Jan. 15.

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