Shockley: Higher ed funding shouldn’t be one time fix

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University of Colorado, Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak would like legislators to find an alternative to pulling money from the $700 million in Pinnacol Assurance reserves as a one-time fix for the state’s budget woes. 

Pinnacol is the state’s workmen’s compensation insurer.

Shockley-Zalabak isn’t alone either. Officials at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and other business stakeholders are asking the same thing.

CACI and Chamber members worry that by exhausting Pinnacol’s reserves, small business owners’ premiums would increase.

In a Thursday briefing session, Shockley-Zalabek said the current shortfall could lead to a $300 million cut in higher education funding which would be “devastating,” especially for UCCS and other southern Colorado colleges and universities.

The university’s chief said she prefers looking for a long-term answer to raiding another organization’s reserves would prefer a permanent rather than a one-time fix “because otherwise we’re headed for a cliff,” she said, adding that several Southern Colorado’s smaller colleges and universities could struggle to survive if budgets were cut year after year.

“UCCS is in a better position, but this would only hurt a part of the state that is already seeing about 12 percent fewer students pursue a post - secondary education, compared to high school graduates from Castle Rock north.

Ultimately, she said, such losses would hurt students’ future chance to get an education and to earn a higher income.

But if all else fails, the chancellor would accept the one-time solution over having to slash an already-tight budget and increase tuition and fees.

“We’ve already seen a 33 percent increase in the number of applications – about 500 students – where the families can contribute zero toward the cost of enrollment due to the recession. So far we’re trying to keep as much money available for our students as possible, but if the legislators pass the proposed cut, all the budgets we’ve put together for next year will have to be refigured – and we’d have to look at tuition increases,” she said.