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Opinion: Here’s why the leaders of higher education in Colorado support Prop CC

Colorado voters quite rightly ask how additional funding would be spent if they pass Proposition CC on the November ballot.

At a big-picture level, a third of the revenue from CC would go to transportation, a third to K-12 education and a third to higher education.

We can only speak in detail to the latter, but we would offer a one-word answer to the question of where the money would go: students. 

Tony Frank (March 22, 2018. Photo by Ellen Jaskol).

We commit to working with the legislature and governor to provide some relief for students and parents who have shouldered budget cuts to higher education for the past decade – cuts that have left Colorado higher education funding more than 11% lower today than a decade ago.

Let’s be clear: No ballot issue can fix everything, but this one would fix real problems we see every day. It allows the current economic expansion to address key priorities without increasing the tax rate — the best solution to our state’s higher education funding woes that has come along since the Great Recession.

Mark Kennedy. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Students at Colorado’s trade schools, community colleges, four-year institutions and research universities would directly benefit from an infusion of new funding to support scholarships, learning technologies, workforce development and enhanced student advising, among other critical areas. 

Proposition CC would allow those investments without raising the tax rate. The measure would have unprecedented levels of transparency, requiring independent annual audits that detail how the money is spent. Proposition CC wouldn’t be a long-term fix for our state’s chronic higher education funding woes, but it certainly would help. 

Colorado ranks 48th nationally in funding for higher education, and that’s just not a recipe for a healthy and competitive future.

Despite that abysmal ranking, our colleges and universities are serving more students more efficiently than ever before. That’s important, because our state needs the highly skilled workforce higher education provides to grow our economy, compete on the global stage and support industry sectors that are the backbone of our state, including health care, energy, technology, aerospace, agriculture and biotechnology. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

We know technology is rapidly changing the workforce here and nationally in those key sectors. The consulting firm McKinsey estimates that automation could replace 44% of jobs in the U.S. by 2030.

Jobs for those with only a high school education will be hit the hardest. We need to equip people with the knowledge and skills to drive the economy and feed their families in our fast-changing world.

Colorado’s system of post-secondary education is how we deliver those skills. Yet anemic funding for that system inhibits our abilities to deliver on what our state needs and our students demand, especially as that demand continues to grow.

Whether it’s a woman in Pueblo who sees opportunity in the automotive industry, or a student in Yuma who wants to bring his knowledge of business back to the family farm, we have students across Colorado who need our campuses to be accessible and affordable so that they can build the lives they want. That matters not only to those individual lives, but to the long-term health of our state. 

Some are concerned CC would have no sunset date – but normal economic cycles will provide a natural sunset. We’ve been in the longest economic expansion in history, but a downturn is inevitable. 

When the next recession comes, the surpluses that fund CC will go away. But in years when the state economy is booming, it’s just common sense that we be able to invest in schools, colleges and roads. Our students and our future deserve that.

We’re joined in our support of CC by higher ed CEOs Janine Davidson (Metropolitan State University of Denver), Andy Feinstein (UNC), Tim Foster (Colorado Mesa), Joe Garcia (Community Colleges system), Carrie Besnette-Hauser (Colorado Mountain College), Greg Salsbury (Western Colorado) and Tom Stritikus (Fort Lewis). 

It’s fair for Coloradans to ask where the money from CC will go. If it passes, we will happily point to the students who will graduate from trade schools, community colleges and universities.

They will enter the workforce of tomorrow, become part of the fabric of our communities, and help drive our economy to ensure Colorado retains its competitiveness and the quality of life we all have come to cherish.

Tony Frank is chancellor of the Colorado State University System. Mark Kennedy, president of the University of Colorado, is writing as a private citizen. The college and university presidents who have endorsed Proposition CC have done so either as private citizens or in their official capacity with the support of their respective governing board.


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