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2010 May 17 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Colo. Lawmakers Unveil Major Tuition Overhaul

DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers have unveiled a major overhaul of the state’s college tuition program that seeks to raise an additional $300 million by requiring parents and students to pay more.

Lawmakers announced the move as a way to help the state cover a projected $1.7 billion budget shortfall next fall. If approved, the measure would go into effect this November.

In exchange, colleges would have to meet strict goals for graduation and employment of students or they would have to roll back tuition increases.

Senate Majority Leader John Morse, a Democrat from Colorado Springs, said it’s not unreasonable to ask students to work 10 hours a week during the semester and 40 hours a week in the summer to help pay for their future.

He also said students should be able to take on $5,000 a year in debt at research colleges and $3,000 a year at community colleges to help pay for their education.

“It is your future. You have some responsibility to make it happen,”’ Morse told students attending a gathering of college presidents to brief them on the legislation.

Tuition increases would be limited to 9 percent a year, unless the institution can justify a higher increase.

Students would be given a seat on the governing boards and the right to vote on their college’s budget, but if they reject it, programs would be rolled back. Students at the flagship University of Colorado would not be allowed to vote because their university is governed by the state constitution, not the Legislature.

Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Gov. Bill Ritter, said the governor wants to ensure the legislation carries out the recommendations of his own task force on higher education, but that he endorses the concept of giving higher education more responsibility for its future.

“Generally there is an understanding this may be a necessary step given the economy and given the precarious nature of funding for higher education. We want to make sure the bill is in harmony with the spirit and substance of the tax force recommendations,” Dreyer said.

Morse, who met with Ritter on the issue, said the task force recommended more power for the Colorado Commission of Higher Education and the Ritter administration, while lawmakers are recommending legislative oversight and more accountability.

He said he believes the bill will become law.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Morse and Republican Minority Leader Josh Penry of Fruita.

Penry said lawmakers are faced with tough choices on funding for higher education, one of the few big-tag items in the state budget not protected by the state constitution.

He said lawmakers could do nothing and let higher education wither on the vine, raise taxes — which would be almost impossible in an election year — “or we can be creative.”

“This is a significant public policy shift” that would give colleges and universities more flexibility on tuition in exchange for more accountability, Penry said.

Steve Jordan, president of Metropolitan State College of Denver, told lawmakers the measure could force colleges to set the bar low so they could meet their goals and avoid having to roll back increases.

He said Metro State has high expectations of educators and students that could be difficult to meet under the new rules.

“People will think a failure to achieve a goal is a failure of the institution. Rather than buying into goals, we’re going to reduce goals,” he said.

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