Mesa State chief wants more control over purse strings

Giving public colleges and universities more control over their own operations could be one solution to higher education funding woes, said Mesa State College President Tim Foster.

Foster and college, university and community college presidents from across Colorado gathered Thursday in Denver to discuss funding with Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. Foster said he favors accepting a block of money from the state and having more control over hiring, purchasing and reporting fiscal data.

That means letting colleges report data through one system instead of three, eliminating mandates on awarding financial aid, letting college governing boards sell and receive property, allowing schools to hire PERA retirees to work more than 110 days after retirement, and exempting boards from state fiscal rules restricting them from approving schoolwide fiscal policies. The changes would make schools more efficient,  Foster said.

Foster said there’s “no benefit” in restrictions guided by the state and said he can hold the college accountable “without bureaucracy.”

“If students don’t like the way we do things, they’ll let us know,” he said, specifically by leaving the school.

People who question how accountable a school can be without a government watchdog should look at current practices, such as a requirement that if a college collects more tuition revenue than the inflation rate from the previous year, 20 percent of tuition revenue over inflation has to go to need-based financial aid. Meanwhile, the federal government is also increasing need-based financial aid coffers.

“I have to raise tuition more” because of the 20 percent mandate, Foster said. “I’m increasing the cost with no real benefit.”

The Legislature’s longterm fiscal stability commission will review the meeting suggestions.

The state general fund budgeted $19.89 million for trustees to spend on expenses this year. Another $4.12 million came from the federal stimulus act. Tuition, academic fees and academic facility fees were to provide an estimated $28.23 million for the college’s 2009–2010 budget. That’s a 38 percent/8 percent/54 percent split.


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