Friday, May 14, 2010

How Colorado Is Different from New York

Quick Citizen SE take on Doug Lederman's story at Inside Higher Ed on the decision by the Colorado legislature to grant state colleges and universities tuition and other flexibilities to help them survive a potential 50% cut in state support for public higher education.

Here's Lederman's summary:

Under the plan, which is designed to last for five years, each institution would by November submit a plan for how it would deal with a 50 percent reduction in its current allocation of state funds. (The Colorado Commission on Higher Education would take those plans into consideration in framing its budget request for the 2011-12 fiscal year.) In exchange, individual universities would, beginning in 2011-12, be allowed to increase their tuition by up to 9 percent a year with no restrictions, but would need approval from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to exceed that level.

Colleges would continue to be required to have at least two-thirds of their students be Coloradans, with one major exception: International students would no longer count as out-of-state students from an enrollment perspective under such a calculation, and the foreign-born could make up as much as 12 percent of a campus's students, up from the current 4 percent. (Foreign students would, of course, continue to pay out-of-state tuition rates, so campuses that added significant numbers of international students could significantly increase their tuition revenue.)

Lastly, the state commission would no longer require institutions that stay under the 9 percent limit on tuition increases to ensure that they dedicate a portion of their revenues to need-based financial aid; instead, each campus would be responsible for ensuring that it provides sufficient financial aid to remain affordable.

Obviously this is similar in some ways to the decision facing New York's political elites with regard to funding SUNY and CUNY and the debates over the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEE&IA), but from a quick read of Lederman's article, I'd suggest the differences may end up being more important. Namely:

(1) It appears that differential tuition is already in place in the University of Colorado system, with their flagship already charging higher tuition than other campuses and already relying less on state funds to cover its operating costs. Tuition is the same across SUNY, despite the vastly different locations (and costs of living) and missions (and costs of operation) across the system. This means that more state support on average goes to doctorals and downstate campuses in New York, whereas in Colorado, it's the less wealthy institutions that get more state support--and thus stand to lose more, since they can't raise tuition much without jeopardizing enrollment yields and will have to do more tuition discounting (via financial aid) than places like Boulder.

(2) There seems to be much less organized opposition to the Colorado legislation than the PHEE&IA has faced in New York. Lederman notes that "Even an organization that has generally opposed Colorado's drift away from public funding of higher education and toward a high-tuition, high financial aid model offered its backing for the legislation this month," quoting Frank Waterous, a senior policy analyst at the Bell Policy Center--"we reluctantly view limited tuition flexibility as the lesser of two policy evils" (the other being "the very real threat of program and service reductions or institutional closures"). Why this is remains an open question. Is Colorado's political culture less dysfunctional than NY? More willing to plan for worst-case scenarios? Are Colorado's higher education unions more fearful of losing their jobs or their campuses?

(3) With SUNY's Chancellor Nancy Zimpher in charge of the system for almost twice as long as Rico Munn, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, has been on board, the SUNY strategic plan is complete while the Colorado strategic planning process is just getting off the ground. So whereas both systems have seen plenty of turnover in recent years--Lederman points out that the state's key body on higher education, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, "has had four executive directors in six years"--SUNY may actually have more stability than its counterparts in Colorado, and CUNY has much more.

(4) Even though critics of the Colorado plan are already worrying about its potential impacts on access, affordability, and college completion, the situation seems a lot less polarized there than here in NY. Whereas Munn is soft-pedaling the impact of the legislation--"Nobody sees this as a solution. It's a short-term fix trying to address the significant budget issues we're facing"--Zimpher continues to peddle PHEE&IA as the best thing since sliced bread and UUP President Phil Smith continues to put it down as the worst thing since the plague. Both sides seem hunkered down for a long fight that looks to continue well past this year's budget battle. While Zimpher emphasizes that SUNY and UUP share the same goals, but differ over the means, Chief Financial Officer Monica Rimai preaches the value of persistence and persuasion.

No big conclusion. Just wanted to throw a quick take out there and see what people think!

1 comment:

spyder said...

And we already have the right wing suggesting that too many people go to college in the first place. I can see a long path of ugly and harsh before things start looking better.