Benson reminds lawmakers of university's economic impact

Joint Budget Committee hears why support for CU benefits fight against recession
By Staff

University of Colorado President Bruce Benson told the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee Tuesday, Nov. 30, that the university is a major contributor to Colorado's economy and will be a force in pulling the state out of recession.

Benson was one of several higher education leaders who presented to the committee, which is charged with crafting the state budget. In his 30-minute talk, he covered CU's contributions to the state's economic, social and cultural health, efforts the university has made to operate more efficiently, and partnerships it has developed with educational entities ranging from K-12 schools to community colleges to other research universities.

"Research universities are major contributors to Colorado's economic health," he told lawmakers. "We create jobs, attract industry and have a collective $9.4 billion economic impact on our state annually."

He noted that CU produces nearly half the undergraduate degrees conferred each year by Colorado's four-year public institutions, as well as the vast majority of master's, doctorates and first professional degrees. Benson stressed that CU is the only public university producing physicians, dentists and pharmacists. He talked about the university's role in meeting the looming shortage of physicians, nurses and other health-care professionals.
Benson also pointed to CU's focus on partnerships – among its campuses, with other research universities and with community colleges – as a way of operating more efficiently and effectively and giving the state more bang for its buck.

He asked the JBC to maintain Gov. Bill Ritter's proposed budget for higher education for fiscal year 2011-12, which would cut higher education by some $150 million. "Further cuts will hurt higher education and have a potentially devastating impact on Colorado's economy," Benson said.

He also asked the JBC to adhere to a funding allocation formula that CU helped craft, and which several other governing boards and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education have agreed to. It considers an institution's general fund appropriation, total funds and enrollment. The JBC used the formula last year when allocating stimulus funds to backfill budget shortfalls.

Benson also asked the committee to keep the Anschutz Medical Campus (AMC) out of the funding formula should further cuts to higher education become necessary. He pointed to the fact that the School of Medicine is already among the lowest-funded in the nation, and there is no room to make up for shortages by increasing tuition on medical students already saddled with significant debt load.

JBC members lauded CU's efforts to operate more efficiently and expressed concern about funding at AMC. Rep. Cheri Gerou, vice chair of the JBC, asked about progress on School of Medicine accreditation issues. Benson said that while there is not much that can be done about abysmal state funding, the school has made progress with diversity and student debt load. Sen. Rollie Heath asked if the funding situation is leading to "brain drain," losing faculty to better funded institutions. Benson said while the university has been able to retain some faculty who had offers elsewhere, CU also has lost some and is in danger of losing others.

Benson and campus leaders are scheduled to make a presentation today to the Legislature's Capital Development Committee on building and maintenance needs.