In the wake of corrections spending (bigger and more) higher ed has been left in the dust. The money does not grow on trees and by spending unwisely (warehousing) and not focusing on how to keep people out of prison in the first place, we are now in an education crisis. The train wreck began when we took the first dollar out of education and put it into prisons.
Colorado's higher education system is on shaky financial ground and students could be clobbered with stiff tuition hikes or program cuts if the system collapses, state leaders say.
The problem is a set of interlocking financial policies - some written into law and the Colorado Constitution - that make the state's 28 college and university campuses uniquely vulnerable to a recession.
And a recession is inevitable, legislators and higher education leaders warn.
"We know there will be an economic downturn at some point," said House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, who has tried to address the issue.
Contributing to the problem are:
* Under Amendment 23, passed in 2000, public schools are guaranteed a share of the budget intended to bring them up to the national average in per-pupil spending - even if the Colorado economy tanks. In a recession, public schools will get a bigger slice - and higher education a smaller slice - of a shrinking budgetary pie.
* Legislators are bound by a law capping the annual overall budget increase at 6 percent. If revenue increases by more than 6 percent, the excess goes to capital construction and transportation - it can't be used for higher education.
* Legislators can't repeal the 6 percent cap because of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment added by voters in 1992. It requires a referendum on any measure that changes state fiscal policy.
Higher education funding was slashed by nearly 22 percent between 2002 and 2005, the bottom of the recession that hit Colorado in the early part of this decade, according to the legislature's Joint Budget Committee. Those same years saw tuition rise by more than 30 percent.
State appropriations for some colleges - including the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado - are still below pre-recession levels. That's because the 6 percent cap prevented legislators from ramping up spending when the recession ended.
CU President Hank Brown said he believes another recession would bring even worse funding cuts - up to 50 percent.
Rocky Mountain News