A dumb option: Gutting state’s education budget

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Colorado is consistently named one of the most-educated states in the country, yet higher education doesn’t seem to be much of a priority around here.

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Since July 2009, the state has cut higher-education funding by nearly 60 percent.

Those reductions have left the state in the basement, ranking just 48th in the nation for per-student college funding.

About $50 million was cut from the University of Colorado, the state’s biggest college system, in fiscal year 2008-09. An additional $71 million was cut the following year.

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Analysts believe higher-ed could lose up to $300 million in state support when the 2011-12 state budget is revealed.

With numbers like that it’s not surprising that most of the state’s public colleges — all but one, in fact — are seeking tuition increases of as much as 25 percent.

Further tuition increases are a bad idea, a blow that will only help knock the wind out of the economy’s midsection, its middle-class families.

Unfortunately, colleges are faced with little choice.

Metropolitan State College of Denver President Stephen Jordan summed up the quandary best.

“You don’t get services for free,” he said. “The public either has to decide we are going to do it through shared responsibility, which is the tax system, or it is the responsibility of the individual. So far, the public has said it is the responsibility of the individual.”

There’s nothing wrong with the placing some of the financial burden of college on the individual, because after all, it’s the individual who benefits from the education through higher-paying jobs.

But the individual is not the only one who benefits from education.

A highly educated workforce means increased gross domestic product and more powerful economic development.

That’s fairly basic and widely accepted; it’s why it makes sense for the financial burden of education to be shared by the individual and society at large.

Every institution funded by state taxpayer money has had to tighten its belt during the recession, but none as much as education.

When drawing up the state budget this year, legislator should leave education funding alone.

The state’s colleges have already done their share.