State budget: from bad to worse for higher education

By Staff

The state higher education budget has been further reduced after Gov. Bill Ritter announced Wednesday that the state's public colleges and universities will take an additional $145 million in cuts in the current fiscal year. The University of Colorado's share of the cut has not been determined, but the governor is scheduled to present specific recommendations for the 2010-11 budget to the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee on Nov. 9.

The $145 million is in addition to the $80.9 million in cuts announced earlier in the fiscal year. The governor has said he intends to backfill the cuts with federal stimulus money, assuming the state receives a waiver it requested from the federal government, which initially directed that funding could not drop below 2006 levels. Several states have already received the waivers.

While the stimulus funds extend the time higher education has to plan for the cuts, the deeper reductions steepen the "cliff" higher education faces when stimulus funding runs out, said CU President Bruce Benson. However, he stressed that exact budget figures remain a moving target.

Benson said he intends to meet next week with chancellors and budget vice chancellors to discuss how to address the latest cuts.

Last week, Benson and the other leaders of Colorado's public colleges and universities met with Senate Majority Leader John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) to begin to craft legislation that would give higher education more flexibility in its operations. The areas discussed include allowing higher education to establish its own fiscal rules, reducing duplicative financial reporting, exempting international students from nonresident caps, and allowing institutions, rather than the state, to direct financial aid.

Some higher education leaders proposed allowing governing boards the authority to set tuition rates, but Morse and others said the governor would not support that idea. Morse will take the flexibility ideas to the Fiscal Stability Commission, a group of legislators and citizens working to find solutions to Colorado's fiscal crisis. The commission, which includes Morse, will consider the issues and look to forward them as draft legislation, which Morse will carry when the Colorado General Assembly convenes Jan. 13.