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"Doomsday Scenario" Looming for Colorado Higher Education?



November 24, 2010

DENVER - Higher tuition bills, crowded classes and fewer course options. That's one scenario facing students in Colorado's state-funded universities and colleges if state aid to the schools is cut in half. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education calls it the "doomsday scenario" - a worst-case outline of the potential impacts of further budget cuts.

Terry Scanlon with the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute says colleges - especially community colleges - are seeing higher enrollment during the recession, increasing the need for more instructors and classes.

"The math doesn't add up on operating our public colleges and universities. Something has to change. If we want to continue to keep the doors open and serve the number of students we're serving, the solution needs to be more revenue."

This fiscal year, higher education received just over $700 million in state and federal funds. The commission will make its case supporting Gov. Ritter's proposed 2011-2012 budget, which limits higher education cuts to about $89 million, at a meeting with lawmakers on Nov. 30.

This month, the commission recommended actually increasing state aid - even in a time of revenue shortfalls - to help make college more affordable to minority and low-income students. Scanlon says that higher education can be an economic catalyst.

"What interest groups are most interested in seeing a well-funded higher education system? The Chamber and large business interests. They see the connection between having a high-quality college and university system and the growth of high-quality jobs in Colorado."

He points out that this is part of a larger revenue crisis facing all aspects of state government, and warns that cutting higher education funding further could devastate communities where colleges are located, such as Alamosa, Lamar or Fort Collins.

"We'd be laying off people in communities all across Colorado. These colleges and universities are the economic engines of those communities."

More than a 250,000 students attend public colleges and universities at 26 campuses throughout Colorado.

A link to the "doomsday scenario" can be found at www.ednewscolorado.org.

Kathleen Ryan/Deb Courson, Public News Service - CO