Higher education’s new funding model?
In an era of decreasing state money for colleges — when Colorado is perceived as systematically defunding higher education — Colorado Mesa University has held its own.
A major reason it has done so is its ongoing partnership with the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County, which has helped CMI acquire property needed for expanding its campus.
Now CMU is asking the city to increase its financial commitment to that partnership, $7 million over the next decade or so, an amount that would be matched by CMU. That money would go toward construction of a new academic building which, unlike dorm buildings, can’t repay its construction costs through student fees.
We hope the Grand Junction City Council finds a way to meet that request. It’s important for the continuing growth of CMU, which is near capacity in existing classroom space.
But the partnership between CMU and the city is hardly a one-way street. As CMU President Tim Foster outlined for the City Council, the ongoing growth of the university will have a direct benefit for the city’s revenue. Foster estimated a $300,000 difference in city sales tax revenue if CMU continues to grow as it has, compared to no growth.
One could certainly make the case that the economic situation in this valley would have been much worse over the past four years if CMU hadn’t been engaged in several major construction projects, expanding its academic programs and enlarging its student population.
Furthermore, the university’s benefits to the city, county and the region can’t be measured entirely with tax revenue. There are cultural amenities such as theater performances and concerts. The university provides assistance to the city, county and other entities on studies and meetings for things such as planning and natural resource issues.
On top of that, as it brings students and faculty from outside the area, many will realize the attractions of this community and decide to stay here. Some will start new businesses or add their talents to existing ones. Others will become active participants in important community organizations or lead new volunteer efforts. They will buy houses, cars and more.
If the Grand Junction Economic Partnership had recruited a business that offered the community benefits CMU does, with the potential for continuing growth for years to come, it would be celebrating as if it had just won the Super Bowl.
Many communities throughout Colorado and around the country with mid-sized colleges and universities are facing a similar dilemma: Should they watch their valued institutions slowly wither away as conventional forms of public funding dry up and rising tuition to make up the difference causes student enrollment to decline? Or should they contribute their own local funds to keep the institution vibrant?
Fortunately, this community already has the partnership established, and it has helped both entities over the past decade and longer. But it’s time to expand on that historic partnership and take it to a new level.