Higher ed budget, tuition flexibility generate fresh discussion

Governor holds line on cuts to institutions – for now

Funding to higher education was spared in Gov. Bill Ritter's most recent budget-balancing plan, which was announced on Thursday, Feb. 18.

Still, universities and colleges throughout the state could face further cuts depending on a state revenue forecast expected the third week of March.

Ritter submitted the $340 million proposal to the legislature's Joint Budget Committee to re-balance the 2010-2011 budget. The committee voted in favor of the plan on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Meanwhile, leaders from the University of Colorado and other higher education institutions met last week with lawmakers in anticipation of renewed attention for Senate Bill 10-003, which is aimed at giving higher education institutions greater flexibility in several state-regulated areas. The legislation has been on hold for the past month as a courtesy to the governor; Ritter had asked that a study panel at the Colorado Department of Higher Education be given time to announce preliminary recommendations.

Among the flexibility legislation's goals:

  • Allow higher education institutions to develop their own fiscal rules and policies, apart from some state regulations. Cutting bureaucracy would improve efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Remove current limits on the number of international students who may enroll in colleges. The University of Colorado at Boulder has the smallest international student population of any institution in the American Association of Universities. Without denying spots to in-state students, a greater influx of students from around the world would grow enrollment, diversify the campus experience and boost tuition revenue.
  • Allow universities to determine how they allocate student financial aid money, rather than have it driven by state formulas.
  • Establish that higher education institutions autonomously set their own information technology practices.
  • Give colleges the ability to proceed with construction projects more efficiently by cutting down on the amount of financial data they must report to the state.

Originally part of the flexibility proposal, a bill establishing new statewide standards for transferring college credits from two-year schools to four-year schools, and between four-year schools, earned approval in the House on Friday, Feb. 19.

Another part of the flexibility proposal as first envisioned last year: tuition flexibility. Ritter had said he would not consider allowing higher education institutions' boards to determine their own tuition rates. At a news conference last week, Ritter indicated we would be willing to again discuss the possibility with higher education leaders. The Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee is expected to discuss the matter at a meeting today.