Higher ed panel wrestles with tough questions

Big ideas were in the air Tuesday as the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee started its formal review of subcommittee proposals for the future of the state’s colleges and universities.

Among them were such sticky issues as:

  • What’s an “adequate” level of state tax support for colleges and universities?
  • Should communities be allowed to raise taxes to supplement the funding of local colleges?
  • Should state support be given directly to students rather than institutions?
  • Should college funding be tied to outcomes like student retention and graduation rather than enrollment?
  • Can direct student funding and outcome-based funding somehow be combined?
  • Should the state have more power to regulate individual institutions?

While discussion on those and other issues was lively, the committee didn’t vote on or rank the 22 recommendations made by four subcommittees. Those groups studied the broad issues of access to higher education; the mission and organization of the state system; the pipeline from K-12 and higher ed, and financial sustainability.

What the panel discussed

View the slides that the committee used to guide its meeting, including time lines, the committee’s mission, a list of the challenges facing higher ed and a cross reference of the four subcommittees’ 22 recommendations with the strategic plan’s five major goals.

Department of Higher Education staff had wanted committee members to do an initial ranking of the subcommittee recommendations. But the members decided they didn’t want to do that, instead instructing staff to prepare a first-draft report that will be circulated among the group and then discussed at its next meeting in late September.

Despite the lack of decisions, the discussion of key issues was lively and some of it highlighted the divides in the higher ed community.

There was much talk about budget challenges, with Co-Chair Jim Lyons saying, “We’re talking about the financial survivability of higher education in this state.”

One subcommittee has recommended $760 million a year in tax support as the minimum needed for higher ed. But several members noted that $1 to $1.5 billion is a more realistic number if the state wants to improve quality and accessibility.

Committee members also fretted about whether the public would support tax increases for higher ed. “Somebody’s got to be making a much stronger case for higher education as a public good. … I don’t think people in Colorado buy that right now,” said Don Elliman, a top gubernatorial advisor who’s an ex officio member.

Several campus leaders sat in on the meeting, including University of Colorado President Kay Norton, who said, “It’s great to have discussions about what would happen if there an additional revenue stream.” But, she added, college presidents have “to focus on a reality that is quite different.”

Colorado State University Chancellor Joe Blake

Joe Blake, Colorado State University chancellor, agreed that current financial pressures are the top priority for campus leaders.

Norton also was cool about the idea of a stronger state regulator role: “We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about governance and regulation except to wish it would go away.”

Tim Foster, president of Mesa State College, said, “I don’t think you need more regulation, but more collaboration” among institutions

Metro State President Steve Jordan repeated his familiar argument that the state needs to expands its middle-tier, four-year campuses to serve new kinds of students. “You have to rethink the missions of some of these institutions” to focus on undergraduate education, he said, mentioning the University of Colorado’s Denver and Colorado Springs campuses.

Absent from the session was CU President Bruce Benson, who’s recovering from hip replacement surgery. Benson previously has raised multiple concerns about some financing ideas floated by the steering committee, fearing they would harm CU, especially its graduate medical programs. (See this letter for details on CU’s concerns.)

The steering committee has five broad goals for its work:

  • Identify ways to improve the pipeline to higher education for both young and adult learners.
  • Reduce geographic, economic and demographic gaps in higher education access, retention and completion.
  • Strengthen links between K-12, higher education and the state’s economy.
  • Ensure future financial stability and affordability of the higher ed system.
  • Make recommendations for governance reform.

Considerable time during Tuesday’s meeting at the Auraria Higher Education Center was spent reviewing how the various subcommittee recommendations fit under those five goals.

The 14-member panel, created by Gov. Bill Ritter late last year and then formalized by a 2010 law, next meets on Sept. 22 to review the proposed draft report.

The final report is due to the governor and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education Nov. 4. In late September, the panel plans to hold four or five public meetings around the state, as well as to discuss the report draft with CCHE members and campus governing boards.

Related: Texas higher ed study group wrestles with similar issues

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”