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Strategic plan outlines potential funding boosts for higher education

Ritter: Leaders must convince public of need for investment

By Jay Dedrick

In unveiling a strategic plan for Colorado's higher education system, Gov. Bill Ritter said state leaders must convince the public that a greater tax-supported investment is worthy and necessary.

"We are at a crossroads," Ritter said Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Capitol. "We in leadership particularly need to make our case to the state. ... Yes, (higher education) is about economic development, but it's also about quality of life."

Ritter and members of the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering (HESP) Committee were gathered to publicly present the plan that Ritter commissioned more than a year ago. The release of the 37-page report came just two days after Colorado voters elected a new governor and slate of lawmakers – who may or may not heed the report's advice.

"They can look at that report and put it on the shelf," Ritter said, "... or understand the urgency that this group acted with in this effort."

The state's higher education system is spending its money efficiently, the report states, yet Colorado is among the lowest in the nation in state funding of higher education. That rate is in decline, with more of the financial burden shifting to students and families.

The plan recommends: that the state increase funding to ensure affordable higher education; that access for lower-income students and ethnic minorities be boosted; that students entering college be better prepared than they are now; and that more effective oversight of the higher education system be implemented, including more authority for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE).

"None of this comes free," said Jim Lyons, co-chair of the HESP committee.

The plan outlines four funding scenarios, but recommends one in which state funding rises from the current $550 million to $1.5 billion. Possible revenue-generating choices include raising income tax from the current 4.63 percent to 5 percent and increasing sales tax, now 2.9 percent, to 3 percent; expanding sales tax to certain services; adding a 1 percent surcharge to extraction of natural resources; adding a 4.0 mill levy statewide; and adding a 4.0 mill levy in counties where a higher-education institution is located.

Not all the options would have to be used, the report indicates, but a combination of two or more is required to meet HESP goals.

The CCHE is expected to adopt a master plan for education, and the HESP report may be incorporated into it.

"There is now a marching order," said Jim Polsfut, CCHE chair.

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