Archive for the ‘Public Arguments’ Category

Matthew Imlay

Dear Governor Hickenlooper,

Higher Education is not usually at the forefront of campaign issues, nor does it receive much air time on talk shows, TV shows or other forms of media. During this time of recession, other issues have been given more weight in choice of candidates and so the candidates have responded by pushing higher education to the back burner. Not in the mind of the public, and as a result not in the minds of leaders, higher education funding has been boiled down to a reality that should be hard to swallow here in Colorado; it is discretionary. I know that with the recession and budget cuts, managing the state budget is a daunting task; however higher education spending can no longer be viewed as discretionary here in Colorado if we want to recover from the recession and remain competitive in the coming years.

If you view a nation as a house then to build it with stability and prosperity you have to start with a foundation. In a country or state this foundation is a well educated populace. The benefits of higher education are numerous, both on an individual level as well as for society. It is true that some of the most successful individuals in America have little or no postsecondary education; however those people are the exception not the rule. There is nothing else a person can invest in and get such a reliable return. College graduates on average earned 73% more on average in 2004 than those with only a high school diploma, more with professional degrees (Baum et al); and the gap is continuing to widen. Also college graduates are more likely to send their children to postsecondary school as well furthering class division as well. College graduates are also more likely to volunteer and they’re higher earnings are taxed at higher rates. A college degree results in an estimated $800 saved annually in state welfare programs (Baum et al). College graduates live longer lives, healthy lives and tend to contribute more to society in a broad perspective (Baum et al). The list of benefits to an individual goes on and resulting in thousands to millions of dollars in increased productivity and thousands of dollars saved publicly. These benefits act like compound interest, adding on top of each other every year, promoting economic growth and stability.

The idea that education and economic success are linked has long been a view held by Americans, we were one of the first nations to provide public schooling to all citizens, and while it is not specifically written into the national constitution, all states have provisions written into their own. This idea is central to any debate on education spending as economic benefit is what we are supposed to gain from such an investment. But is this a universal truth or simply an illusion Americans continue to hold onto? Looking to the past we can see just how true it really is, in particular looking at situation not to different from where we currently sit. The year was 1944, World War II just ended, and America’s leaders were afraid that the recovery fueled by the war would go with it. California, while still a large powerful state from the gold rush of the late 1800’s, was not the powerhouse that it is today. The Governor Earl Warren invested in higher education, building new campuses across the state, improving those already established, and increasing access through grant funding (Douglas). Now California has three of the premier institutions in academia, science, and the arts, perhaps the best three universities in the western United States. Stanford is often referred to as the Ivy-league of the west, Cal-tech steals bright young minds from MIT every year, and the only music university better than Berkley is Julliard, and that’s debatable. California sits at the top of the United States in terms of economy and population, its GDP is edging towards 2 trillion dollars and still remaining in the top ten in terms of per capita earning(“Comparison of State and Local Spending”). You could write California’s prosperity and their attention to higher education off as coincidence, but they didn’t supplant the industrial east by accident.

Higher education has the power to propel a nation into prosperity, which is why it is so important, to realize its full potential access to it will have to increase. Colorado’s economy, like the rest of America’s, has changed over the past two decades. There is a class dividing line that’s starting to find its way into American life, and the line is a college degree. My father has always said, “College isn’t so much about getting educated in a particular subject as it is simply learning how to think.” In general I agree with this statement as many college graduates go on to find employment in fields outside their majors. The rising costs and decreasing funding may soon leave those less fortunate by the wayside, and for them, this class dividing line may become an impassable chasm. That may be a little dramatic, and I hate to be a prophet of doom, but the middle class is dying off in America, the same America that only a hundred years ago was referred to as the “Land of Opportunity.” Now in America the upper 10% of the nation earns over half of the wealth and the lower 50% earns less that 1% (Snyder).  I may not have a degree in economics but even I can see there is something wrong with this distribution. It is projected that in the next two decades 80% of the workforce will need some postsecondary education to remain competitive. (Voorhees, pg 4) How will we meet this demand for an educated workforce if we do not act now? If you believe that America has the moral obligation to uphold the principals of economic freedom and equality, then something needs to be done to allow equal access to the benefits higher education institutions.

Some people may disagree about the cost of post secondary schooling but one thing is for sure, it is getting more expensive. The cost of public higher education has skyrocketed 300% in the past twenty years (see graph below), which is well over three times the amount of inflation over the same time period (“Inflation.). If you combine that with the above fact that 50% of America own 1% of the wealth it becomes apparent that higher education is not as accessible as it once was.

( Dresrochers et al, pg.8)

Colorado is a state that promotes economic freedom through its policy of tax exemption for businesses and support of personal freedoms. The foundation of Colorado is crumbling though as higher education support starts to crumble. Colorado has one of the lowest spending rates per student of any state for higher education (“State and Local Public Higher…”), and with seventy-five percent of all college students are enrolled in state funded schools (Dresrochers et al), that doesn’t speak of the future we all envision. Part of the reason for such a low funding here in Colorado is education is a power reserved to states. The U.S. Constitution has nothing to say about the matter so states have huge discrepancies in how they’ve handled it, and it has become the single largest cost to state governments. High School education is provided in Colorado’s constitution for all children of the state, making K-12 a fixed cost. Colorado’s inability to borrow money and the refusal of voters to increase taxes results in two places Colorado officials can cut money in times of economic downturn, transportation and higher education. Driving around Colorado, it’s clear the roads can’t take any more hits, so higher education cuts become the most viable option. This leaves increasing taxes as seeming the only way to increase funding, not a popular idea anywhere. I personally would support this notion but the rest of the state most likely would not.

The economic and social benefits of a highly educated populace are clear, so the question becomes how do we realize such an ideal? 36 million dollars are proposed to be cut from higher education in 2012; to make up the deficit would only require 6 dollars per person (“Comparison of State and Local Spending”).  Again that’s increasing taxes; there are alternatives to such an increase, some more radical and progressive than others. If you view the budgeting woes as a symptom of an underlying social problem, then like any good doctor will tell you, to cure the disease treat the problem and the symptoms will, for the most part, fix themselves. Thinking like this and forming a Colorado today that holds to healthy ideas is what will lead to prosperity in the long run. A benefit of this short term decrease in funding is that it is “cutting away the fat” if you will, here in Colorado’s higher education system. Streamlining education will leave Colorado institutions with the best teachers and most effective education systems; however we need to do more. One problem with any type of public schooling is that increasing spending does not necessarily correlate with better education. Education needs funding needs funding like a seed needs water: not enough it withers and dies, too much and it drowns through collective prodigality. Colorado needs a tempered approach. If we could increase funding to increase access while at the same time promoting smart spending in the schools then Colorado could quickly rise to the top of the postsecondary education system. An answer to that riddle could be State funded aid programs. If you cut state funding to schools but allow them to raise tuition, then instate a state scholarship program with the saved money, free market principles will guide Colorado institutions to become more effective and allow more students in the long run to be enrolled. Another benefit would be that college enrollment would become merit based and allow the brightest minds access to the best institutions regardless of economic situation. Over their lifetime money saved by the state, combined with the increase in tax revenue from their increased earnings, complete public funding of higher education would pay for itself. I am no arguing the state should fully fund higher education right away, or even ever, but pointing out how much higher education benefits society and one way  reformation could take place.

The reform needed in the way higher education is funded is not going to change overnight, but it should be obvious that it can no longer be ignored. America has slipped in its position as the leader in education and if we continue down this path, it will likely end with America becoming an empire of  the past. With the right leadership and direction however, America could correct its course and Colorado could be the leader of the cause. As governor of Colorado it is your duty to the people to lead it to a better tomorrow. LoDo in Denver was not turned around by planning only for the present but with one eye to the horizon. If you are the same man you were, I believe that you can lead Colorado to the same bright outcome, and the first step is to move education to the forefront, like it always should have been. The problem with a discretionary mentality, especially during a recession, is that higher education is the best way to build a better Colorado today, and position Colorado as the leader of a better America tomorrow.


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Recently Tony Frank, the president of Colorado State University, sent off a mass email to students and faculty. In it he described the necessity to increase student tuition prices. He made sure to point out the pay increase freezes that are campus wide, the $23 million loss of funding from the state of Colorado, and how the students at CU Boulder are paying much more than we will be next year. Most of all his email made sure we were all aware of the 20% hike in tuition that will be coming next semester. This, Tony, is my response.

We are paying too much! We do not have the income nor the time to produce the income level required to go to school here. Not only are we paying too much for tuition we are paying too much for books and other student fees. We cannot sit idly by and wait for our pocketbooks to run dry and our savings to turn to dust. The economy is failing and yet the college demands we pay more. Tony Frank made sure we understood our place in his latest email to the entire campus. In it he declared that prices will be going up another 20% this fall. Enough is enough we need to put an end to this!

In case you were all riled up from that last paragraph I want to apologize. This is not where I stand anymore nor is it where anyone else should. We are not paying too much and it is with a heavy heart that I now must explain why.

I want to start with the issue that most people avoid looking at when they decide whether they are paying too much for school. That issue is the facts. Okay maybe most people don’t ignore them, but when I started this, I was ignoring them; so I’m going to hit you with them cold and hard. Tuition at Colorado State University is low. It’s really low. The cost of in state attendance here is $6,986 per student for tuition and fees where as the national in state cost is on average $7,605 (Trends, 3).  The price difference is over $600 a year. That’s $2,400 per student per bachelor’s degree at CSU. With 23,000 students at Colorado State that means the college is missing out on more than$13,800,000 that the average university this size would pick up.

The way Colorado State has decided to deal with this is by charging out of state students an astronomically high sum of money to go to school here. Nationally the average out of state student pays $19,595 where as the average out of state student at Colorado State will pay upwards of $23,000 a year. While this is picking up some of the thirteen million dollar slack; it only comes from the ten percent or so out of state students going here. A little bit of quick math and we come to out of state students picking up about seven million of that almost fourteen million deficit. Now I’m not saying this is the actual school deficit. It most certainly is not. What I am saying is the average college of this size in the United States is pulling in at least seven million more dollars a year than CSU from tuition.

Well there are the cold hard facts. We are paying less for an education than the rest of the nation. Yay! I like paying less. We can’t keep paying so little for our education though. It isn’t economically possible for a school this size, even a terrible school, to keep running on so little money. By terrible school I mean the kind of school that this video talks about http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=119>. Colorado State University isn’t a terrible school though. This is a great school, and as a great school, it is costing a lot more to keep it running every day.

It is actually surprising that we have been able to keep going this long. We are not the average college in America, we are a great college. This university is renowned for its programs, its athletics, and even its engineers. Most of all this school is renowned for its veterinarians. This is one of the worlds best veterinarian colleges. Don’t take my word for it though. BusinessWeek listed Colorado State as having one of the top undergraduate business programs in the country. Forbes rated Colorado State as one of 2010’s best colleges in the nation. The Princeton Review listed Colorado State as the 69th best University in the Nation for 2010. The praise goes on and on, U.S News and World Report, Poets and Writers Magazine, and even the Peace Corps are all talking about CSU. We don’t have good teachers here. We have great ones. It is an absolute feat of genius that this school has been able to stay afloat on the meager tuition it receives now. To be frank our professors deserve better than being told day in and day out, we pay too much. We pay their salary. By telling them this we are telling them they don’t deserve the pay they already receive, and that’s not true.  Aside from all the praise, we are having some serious money problems.

Colorado State University isn’t alone in its money problems though. We are in a recession and money is tight everywhere. It has become so bad now for government officials in charge of the state budget; that education seems to be the only place available to make cuts. Governor Ritter made a statement in November outlining this problem. In his statement he stated that Colorado has a $262 million budget shortfall. The state apparently hopes to fix this by using $156 million of K-12 education funds (Education Cuts). He also stated that Colorado has trimmed $4.5 billion in the past 3 years and will need to cut more than another billion by years end.

Colorado didn’t stop with K-12 education funding cuts though. Lawmakers went though all education funding trying to find additional money for the state. Recently there has even been a push to violate Indian treaties to find more money.  It’s not a particularly new way of thinking, since violating treaties with native peoples has always been standard policy in the United States, but this one is different. A treaty formed in 1911 guaranteed all Native Americans in Colorado a free college education.  Lawmakers are now attempting to tap that funding and take away $1.8 million a year from funds allocated to Native American students attending Fort Lewis College in Durango. This is a major problem for Fort Lewis College because they are already facing a 31 percent budget cut over the next two years.

If the money is draining out and nobody wants to increase taxes we have one last question I’m sure everyone is wondering by now. Is there any way we can change how the money is being spent; so we don’t need so many cuts? In 2004 the Colorado Legislature was seriously concerned with this as well because Colorado fell to last place nationally in total educational revenue to public institutions (Prescott, 21).  This is when the Colorado Legislature decided to create an entirely new way of managing education funds called the COF or College Opportunity Fund.  The COF changed how colleges receive money from the state, and allowed for greater control by the legislature and less by the tax payers. The intent being that the legislature could protect education funds more easily this way.  In 2009 the legislature chose to reduce the value of the COF by more than 25 percent (Prescott, 26). The College Opportunity Fund has only served to divert more money from education.

What does this leave us with? Well first and foremost this is a wonderful college. It is one of the best in the entire nation and we are incredibly lucky that we are only facing a tuition increase of 20 percent. Second, we are not alone in facing financial difficulty. Other schools like Fort Lewis College and even the Colorado legislature are facing massive cuts.  Finally, we have that the State has tried things other than just cutting funding to fix budget issues. In the case of the COF we became worse off than we would have been had we not tried anything but at least the legislature is trying something. It’s too bad we have to see a tuition increase, but at this point, there are no other options.

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Higher Education Funding in Colorado

Mills, Eric "Great Education Colorado"

            It is common knowledge that America is facing some pretty hard times, that our economy is on rocky ground and that legislators have to find ways to help stabilize the budget. But what area of the budget is being hit the hardest in these budget cuts? Education and specifically higher education are facing the biggest budget cuts out of any other part of the Colorado budget as you plan another $266 million dollars in budget cuts for public institutions and $36 million dollars in cuts [Stokols]. These cuts specifically fall on higher education forcing Colorado to be one of the lowest funded states now falling behind Mississippi. [Mills]. All of these budget cuts fall on an area of the Colorado budget that is necessary if the state wants to have an educated workforce that will have the intelligence “training” needed to perform the jobs that will help to boost the economy. Yet the institutions that help to give this extremely necessary education are viewed as a burden and a drain on the taxpayer’s dollar. The media has compared these education institutions (and the instructors employed by them) to Wall Street bankers, claiming that these institutions are in less need of funding because they don’t work as much as Wall Street bankers; they aren’t there everyday twelve months out of the year [Stewart].

            If Colorado’s higher education is going to be able to rise out of this budget crisis that it finds itself in now, you and Colorado’s legislators need to change your opinion that higher education must take the biggest blow, because you believe it is fairly unnecessary for it to come out of the public dollar, seeing as it has the possibility for other types of funding. For when you and the legislators change your view to more of a positive one the citizens of Colorado will follow.

            Some of your personal statements addressing the budget have served to create the negative image that higher education funding has received. In a statement from February 15th of 2011 you stated that education is the “best anti-poverty program on Earth, but if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money.” [Vanderveen] By stating this you clearly show the dichotomy of your current proposals. You state that higher education is the best way of preventing poverty, which is caused in part by unemployment, and in today’s world you must be educated to find a job. Yet for two years in a row both you and Governor Ritter have made massive cuts to the institution that will prevent poverty. Higher education can take little more of this dichotomy, for if it continues students will be forced out of an education they deserve or desire due to tuition hikes and privatization of universities. You also state in your speech addressed to Colorado legislators that you believe that Colorado “…is well positioned to rebound from this historic recession if we are willing to build a strong foundation for that recovery.” [Vanderveen] This again is in complete contrast to your previous statement that education is the best “anti-poverty program”, for how can our state have a solid foundation for a “rebound” in these tough economic times if education, the institution that allows for growth, progress, innovation, and recovery, is having its budget sliced year after year? Your statements clearly express to the people of Colorado that even though it is a shame that you have to make these types of budget cuts, these cuts are really doing no damage to higher education institutions. You make it appear to the public that these institutions are in a state that can easily take these cuts as if it were no more than a troublesome paper cut, when really these cuts are gashes in higher educations ability to function and stay running at the place that it wants to be. I do recognize however that you are using these words to show a sense of calm and to keep the citizens of Colorado from worrying to greatly about the stability of our state, but what these words really succeed in is expressing the opinion that higher education institutions are a drain on the taxpayer dollar and the state budget. This can no longer be the case if we wish to continue to see these “anti-poverty” institutions thrive and create educated people who could possibly be the key to fixing this recession we find ourselves in.

            Along with your personal statements, you and Governor Ritter have continuously cut the state budget by billions of dollars, with higher education shouldering most of the weight. When Governor Ritter proposed his budget for the 2009-2010 year he cut $823 million dollars from the budget, which included a $100 million dollar slash to higher education institutions budgets [Kosena]. One would hope that this would have been the end of the massive budget cuts, but with this year and your budget plan comes another $36 million dollar slashing to higher educations budget [Stokols]. With both you and Governor Ritter going after higher education funding first it gives the impression that these institutions don’t really need the funding, and that what funding they do have is already enough. The voters (who don’t have to currently pay for a college education for their children) see that this can then easily take the hit and continue on. In truth the universities of Colorado are suffering; they have had to cut professors and other programs simply to absorb the cuts, and this still is not enough. Some universities are forced to cut out office supplies for many departments (phones, printers, copiers, etc.) so that they can try and spread the cuts out as evenly as possible, but this of course makes the educators jobs’ difficult. With these budget cuts, universities are even forced to cut professors and other professional members of their staff, which increases the unemployment rate, and these unemployed university workers are unable to find a job because universities are unable to afford to hire on new staff; creating a viscous cycle [Johnson]. If this cycle is to stop Colorado needs to look at alternative means of balancing the budget in these troubling times. It is true however that with the several amendment’s still in affect that won’t allow taxes to be increased, makes it difficult for the legislators to balance the budget. Still, Colorado needs to find other ways of fixing their budget instead of attacking public institutions and especially higher education, which will allow for a boost in our economy with its graduates to come.

            Continuing to compound the issue of your personal statements and the budget cuts that both you and Governor Ritter have proposed was the proposal and the passage of the TABOR Amendment in 1992. The TABOR Amendment states that taxes can not be increased unless approved by the voters of Colorado and the government is not allowed to spend any revenue that is generated/collected falling under current tax rates if those revenues increase “faster than the rate of inflation and population growth”, again without voter approval [Colorado.gov]. With these stipulations under the TABOR Amendment billions of dollars have been given back to the Colorado taxpayer instead of going to fund higher education and other education and public sector institutions alike. With the citizens of Colorado approving this bill, higher education suffered greatly, loosing a great chunk of its funding. This then forced schools to begin to cut out parts of their budgets to make ends meet. The TABOR Amendment clearly shows the people and the government’s disdain for higher education funding, they see it as sucking money away from hard working people and pumping it into a system that is already “too rich” as it is, which puts higher education institutions into a bind that is hard to get out of. Even though the TABOR Amendment is still in place, the state government and the people of Colorado in 2000 did pass Amendment 23 in response to the serious decline in education systems in Colorado. Amendment 23 guarantees a minimum level of funding for education, stating that funding per student at an institution must go up equally with the inflation rate at the time [Colorado.gov]. This is a nice step forward, but this was passed in 2000 and not much has been done since. Colorado must continue in the footsteps of Amendment 23 and further its ability and desire to fund higher education, but with this amendment being passed a while ago with no follow-ups and seeing the state of higher education funding right now; Colorado has to dig deeper to change this perspective and put education back on the correct path.

            Colorado cannot continue on the path that it is taking and higher education can take little more of these types of cuts if we are going to fight this recession. With you and the Colorado legislators targeting education as the area to cut and restrict the most, you are forcing many students out of an education that they so badly desire and that Colorado so desperately needs. House Minority Leader Sal Pace of Pueblo stated that ‘“These newest proposed cuts will have a lasting impact on our ability to maintain the quality of life and values we expect, appreciate and uphold as [sic] Coloradans.’” and that ‘“Now is the time to look for all possible solutions to our serious budgetary problems.” [Stokols] One might say that educators and students alike aren’t really looking at this issue the right way, that the budget needs to have the “burden” of higher education funding cut down or the state will descend further into problems we currently find ourselves in. But educators and students alike “‘…recognize Colorado’s fiscal crisis”’, but according to the President of the AFT Colorado, Brenda Smith ‘“…we can’t balance our budget on the backs of educators and students and expect our state to stay competitive.”’ [Stokols]. With all large portion of your budget cuts falling on education you are stunting Colorado’s ability to truly pull itself out of this recession. It is understandable to cut from many areas of the budget, but year after year now you and Governor Ritter have shown that education is your main focus when looking to bring the budget back into balance. It is a heavy load to bear being the Governor of Colorado or of any state for that matter, but with schools being forced to make do with less resources than is necessary, there has to come a time when you and the people of Colorado ‘“will have to decide if education is really our priority.”’ (Smith 2001; [Stokols])

            It is time that you start looking at other means of balancing the budget, but on a larger scale outside of Colorado, it is time that the United States look outside education when looking for ways to balance the budget. It is time that our state and our country decide whether or not education is important to the countries well being and whether or not we will make it a priority in the future. For if we ever want to pull ourselves, truly, out of this recession you, the legislators, and the people of Colorado are going to have to change their perspective and look at higher education as something that needs to be saved, funded, and protected.

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