Keep college control local, state panel told

Local leaders, educators and students pleaded Tuesday with members of a state panel not to change the decentralized system that runs Mesa State College.

The Colorado Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee hosted a forum Tuesday afternoon at Mesa State to gather public opinion on draft recommendations for how to improve higher education accessibility, funding and governance. After some audience members shared concerns that the recommendations may stifle local efforts to collaborate with the college, committee Co-Chairman Jim Lyons said there was no cause for concern.

“I think I’ve said it a dozen times at this meeting, but let me say it again: We are not as a committee here recommending a change in the way Mesa State is operated,” Lyons said.

The committee’s recommendations will be delivered to the governor next month.

Draft recommendations written by steering committee members include maintaining the current higher education governance system. What worried some of the dozen or so people who commented at the meeting was that the recommendations also suggest giving the Colorado Commission on Higher Education more power, including the task of figuring out how to hold colleges and universities accountable for reaching state goals.

Mesa State Trustee Lena Elliott expressed concern about how that may dent the college and its board of trustees’ authority.

“We want you to kind of get out of our way,” Elliott said.

Greg Stevinson, a member of the steering committee and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, said there are no plans to get rid of or stifle local boards of trustees.

“Institutions with local boards all operate very well,” he said.

Committee Co-Chairman Dick Monfort mentioned another topic discussed in the recommendations: how to stabilize funding for higher education in Colorado. Monfort said it won’t be long before the state runs out of funding for higher education under the current system.

“Some would say 20 years, some would say 10. I’d say three (years),” Monfort said.

The draft recommendations suggest overcoming financial issues by giving local residents the option to participate in a program that would match local contributions with state funding; by giving financial-aid incentives to students who graduate early; and by saving money by examining efficiencies.

He’s not a fan of taxes, but Monfort said during Tuesday’s meeting that new or increased taxes designated for higher education funding may be necessary to even maintain funding, let alone increase it to the U.S. average of $1.5 billion per state for higher education.

Rico Munn, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said the $555 million in state funding predicted for all of Colorado’s colleges and institutions in 2011-12 is a “fairly optimistic number.”

Monfort estimated it could take three or four years to get legislative approval to ask voters for a tax designation for higher education.

Mesa State President Tim Foster said he isn’t optimistic Monfort’s idea will work.

“I don’t see the strategy whereby you can get any of that passed,” he said.


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