New facilities, hope for more aid boost higher-ed

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New facilities, hope for more aid boost higher-ed

Colleges and universities in Colorado Springs continue to plan and bring to life major projects on campuses throughout the city, while continuing to deal with the shift of budgetary burden.

UCCS will open its Lane Center and continue the planning of its Visual and Performing Arts Center. Pikes Peak Community College will seek to make its downtown-campus expansion financially feasible.

Aside from those ambitions, higher-ed institutions in the region continue to face financial struggles — both for themselves and their students.

The burden of tuition for students attending colleges and universities in Colorado has shifted dramatically throughout the past decade. In 2000-2001, the state covered an average of 68 percent of tuition, leaving students with the remaining 32 percent. Now, the state covers only 32 percent, leaving the remaining average of $6,675 to be paid by the student — meaning the rate students pay has doubled in a decade.

While the schools themselves also face budgetary limitations, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education puts the needs of students first while addressing the matter in its October 2012 master plan.

“Financing higher education should be treated as an investment in the economic and civic well-being of the state, not as a cost,” the plan states.

Formally titled Colorado Competes, the plan lays out four goals for the years ahead:

• Increase degree attainment by no fewer than 1,000 credentials each year in order to meet workforce demands;

• Improve student success with improved remedial education, support services and a reduced average of the time it takes to complete a degree;

• Reduce completion gaps among students from underserved communities by increasing access to postsecondary institutions;

• Restore fiscal balance by increasing state support of higher education, while making it affordable, accessible and efficient for students.

“That is the goal that was identified by the commission that we have the ability to impact,” said 5th Congressional District Commissioner B.J. Scott in reference to a restoration of fiscal balance. Scott said that although the road ahead may be rough because of Colorado’s past reluctance to increase education spending, efforts are being made in the state Legislature that have potential to kickstart the fiscal restoration.

“Where we go from here in the future is really dependent on how we can educate our stakeholders — the public,” Scott said. “The commission feels strongly about nothing will happen until there is a better understanding .”

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2014-2015 budget proposal includes a $100 million increase — $60 million operating budget, $40 million financial aid — for higher education. In 2014, the Colorado Department of Higher Education also plans to complete revisions to the statewide remedial education and admission policies in hopes to better align K-12 with colleges and universities across the state.