State colleges and universities ask for $100 million boost in funding

(Photo: Courtesy of Colorado Department of Higher Education)
<p>Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colo.</p>
Photo: Metropolitan State College
Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colo.

Governor John Hickenlooper has proposed the increase. Lt. Governor Joe Garcia told the legislature's budget committee the recommendation includes $60 million for operating costs and $40 million to bolster financial aid.

"This will be really key for serving our own students," Garcia said. "Right now this would be the largest increase in financial aid for as long as the states been providing financial aid."

In exchange, colleges have verbally agreed to limit tuition increases to no higher than 6 percent next year.

A community college system official says 70 percent of the system’s funding now comes from tuition and 30 percent from the state, a complete reversal from 10 years ago.

Some colleges face financial struggles

Meanwhile, officials of several struggling state colleges told lawmakers on the state’s top budget committee Thursday how they plan to get back on financial track.

A December report warned that 60% of Colorado’s colleges are in weak financial health.

Dwindling state support has hurt those schools, but small colleges like Western State Colorado University in Gunnison are also facing increased competition.

Western State officials said they are putting more effort into recruiting, marketing, and expanding their course offerings.

But Republican Representative Frank McNultey said a more aggressive turnaround plan is needed.

"If Western State is not financially viable it doesn’t matter what educational opportunities are offered because that comes secondary to whether you can pay the bills, keep the lights on and keep the heat going," McNultey said.

The report noted that Western State and Adams State University in Alamosa both have high debt loads and are financially at risk.