“Doomsday” report paints stark picture

How would Colorado’s public colleges and universities manage their budgets if state tax support were cut in half?

A new report from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and college leaders warns of dramatic tuition increases; reduced access for minority and low-income students; a financial squeeze on middle-income students; reduced course offerings and bare-bones student services, among other consequences.

Higher education funding cut report“We are near the tipping point where additional reductions in state support … will result in numerous negative outcomes for Colorado current and future students and families, hurting the economy and leading to a stagnant future,” Jim Polsfut, chair of the CCHE, wrote in a letter introducing the report.

The 51-page document also discusses at length the economic impact of higher education and its value to the state.

State funding for higher ed has been cut during both the recession at the beginning of the decade and during the most recent one. That has made students and parents, not taxpayers, the main source of college revenues. On average, state universities and colleges now charge about $3 in tuition for every $1 they receive from the state.

In the current, 2010-11 budget year, the higher ed system is receiving about $620.9 million in state and federal stimulus support, plus $82.5 million for student financial aid. Halving that support would yield $310.4 million for operations and $41.2 million in financial aid.

A law passed by the 2010 legislature gave colleges and the CCHE more freedom in setting tuition rates and also more flexibility in some other financial operations. The law also required the higher ed system to prepare the report on the impact of a 50 percent cut, which was submitted to the legislative Joint Budget Committee Wednesday.

Some higher education officials and college presidents weren’t enthusiastic about the assignment, feeling that there was little practical purpose – and perhaps some bad public relations – in such a hypothetical exercise.

There was some concern in the legislature last spring that the state’s bleak revenue outlook would force such deep cuts in higher ed for the 2011-12 budget year.

It’s uncertain now that the danger is quite so great. Outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposed 2011-12 budget is balanced, includes some $555 million in state support for higher ed and would force colleges to absorb “only” the loss of about $89 million in federal stimulus support. (Get details here about the Ritter budget plan.)

Here are snapshots of what campus leaders say a 50 percent cut would mean. (Enrollment headcount and budget numbers are rounded.)

University of Colorado System (56,400 students in Boulder, Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs) – The summary predicts significant tuition increases for resident students (but no specific estimate), reduction in faculty, continued deterioration of campuses and “reduction in services throughout the campus ranging from student services, administration, to academic support such as for libraries and information technology.” (Current state and stimulus funding is $192.4 million, plus $19.5 million for financial aid.)

Tuition chart
Chart shows what might happen to tuition and per-student state aid if taxpayers support of Colorado colleges is cut 50 percent. Click on image to enlarge.

Colorado State University System (30,500 students in Fort Collins and Pueblo) – “Larger increases in tuition coupled with budget cuts will diminish funding available for financial aid by more than 50 percent. … Drastic reductions will lead to double-digit across-the-board expense reductions, elimination of hundreds of positions and administrative department and program closures. Resident tuition rates will have to be increased significantly” (at least 32 percent at Fort Collins and 40 percent at Pueblo). “Class sizes will have to be significantly larger and resident enrollment may have to be capped.” (Current state and stimulus funding is $132 million, plus $12.2 million for financial aid.)

Colorado Community College System (85,500 students at 13 institutions) – “Budget cuts of this magnitude will dramatically impact the ability of our colleges to serve all Colorado students. … However, given our colleges’ socio-economic profiles and program offerings, these cuts will disproportionally impact our low-income, first-generation, rural, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) students.” (Current state and stimulus funding is $132 million, plus $25.4 million for financial aid.)

Metro State (23,000 students in Denver) – “An operating reduction of $19.8 million would dramatically restrict student support services, necessitate increased class size, reduce the number of course selections offered, limit personal attention from faculty and staff and restrict choices of academic programs.” A 72 percent tuition increase is predicted. (Current state and stimulus funding is $44 million, plus $11.7 million for financial aid.)

University of Northern Colorado (12,700 students in Greeley) – “A 50 percent cut in UNC’s state funding would severely limit the university’s capacity to serve low-income, first-time students, particularly those who are not the academic elite; necessitate larger class sizes and limitations on course offerings; harm our ability to recruit and retain the most qualified faculty; and result in lower student retention rates and longer time to graduation.” No tuition figure mentioned. (Current state and stimulus funding is $40.6 million, plus $4.6 million for financial aid.)

Shifting support for higher education
Chart shows decline in state per-student support and rise in tuition over the last decade. Click on chart to enlarge.

Adams State (2,800 students in Alamosa) – “A combination of reduction in workforce, freezing of wages over extended periods, elimination of programs and tuition increases in excess of 50 percent over a two-year period would be required.” Such a cut would “prohibit the development of an aid packaging model that meets the needs of low income students, depriving them [of] access to higher education.” (Current state and stimulus funding is $13.4 million, plus $1.9 million for financial aid.)

Colorado Schools of Mines (4,700 students in Golden) – Such a cut would “require tuition increases that could threaten our competitive market position and our stable enrollment, and possibly price a Mines’ education out of reach for many Colorado residents.” (Current state and stimulus funding is $21.4 million, plus $1.6 million for financial aid.)

Fort Lewis (3,700 students in Durango) – “The resident tuition increase required to bridge the gap quantified above would equate to 73 percent, or an additional $2,467 per resident student annually, including the financial aid increases needed to mitigate the impact on low and middle-income students. Alternately, since approximately 70 percent of the college’s general fund budget represents personnel costs, if a $5.7 million expenditure reduction was implemented, approximately 100 full time positions (21 percent) would be eliminated.” (Current state and stimulus funding is $11.5 million, plus $1.2 million for financial aid.)

Mesa State (7,000 students in Grand Junction) – “The answer to the hypothetical question posed seems obvious. If Mesa State College’s funding from the state of Colorado is cut by 50 percent, we will be forced to raise revenue, cut expenses and potentially sacrifice quality.” (Current state and stimulus funding is $20 million million, plus $3.3 million for financial aid.)

Western State (2,260 students in Gunnison) – “To offset a loss of $5.6 million in state appropriations (for operations) will require an average increase in tuition of approximately 60 percent. In addition to this offset, additional tuition revenue will have to be generated to cover financial aid losses and to help mitigate the impact of these rate increases on low and middle-income students. We anticipate that this could add a premium of another 30 percent to tuition rates.” Such cuts “would threaten the viability of the institution and create considerable strain on our ability to cover daily operational costs.” (Current state and stimulus funding is $11.2 million, plus $889,000 for financial aid.)

Read the full report here.

The study is the second major document on higher education released in the last week. A new higher education strategic plan covers many of the same financial challenges and recommends asking voters for a tax increase of some sort in 2011 to restore stable funding for higher education (see story for more details).

The two documents provide plenty for the 2011 legislature to think about, should it decide to take up the issue of higher ed’s future.

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.”