The Colorado department of higher education is tasked with representing Colorado students in educational programs post-high school. Their goal is to provide students with the best value for their educations, whether that be through better-funded programs, higher in-state scholarships or lower tuition fees for publicly funded schools, like the Colorado mountain colleges or four-year institutions like boulder university.
Missing the target
Since the recession in 2007-2008, in state funding has not been able to keep up with the rising tuition costs nationally and Colorado has been no exception. But this is not a tuitions rising story. What’s more relevant now is what a student going to college in Colorado can do to combat costs, and how the legislation in Colorado affects those costs.
To understand what a student can receive from the state and what the government is doing to bring more value to their educations, one must understand the tricky business of the state budget. The major mechanism controlling state funding, in any manner, including educational spending, is the TABOR law.
TABOR or the Taxpayers bill of rights was a law passed in 1992 meant to hold the state to using the taxpayer’s money in a productive way. The law is one of the most restrictive budgetary bills in the country, it was formed under the belief that a smaller state government would be better for the people. The current budget cap before taxpayer rebates is 26.98 billion dollars. There are two factors that play into TABOR funding, the first is fees fraction and the second is the general fund.
The fees section is more rigid and collected from state-supported institutions like hospitals. The goal of this section is that they collect these fees from state workers, hospitals etc and this money can only be put right back into the same institutions (to build a reserve and help these programs develop), like hospital additions or new highways.
The general fund consists of state taxes collected from average Colorado citizens; like sales and income taxes. The state is able to use this money for anything from education to again, state projects.
TABOR is a balancing act. The sum of the fees collected and the general fund must not exceed the 26.98 billion dollars or the state will owe refunds back to the citizens, to avoid reckless spending. The more fee’s collected, the less money the state has to spend in other areas like on college campuses and for financial aid and vice versa. The goal is to collect enough money, in both the fees and general fund areas, to afford current costs and build the reserve.
University of Denver
”It’s not that we’re doing much begging for this money, I mean we participate in these meetings with the department of education and talk about how the moneys allocated in the state legislature are divided between these schools. You know, we want to keep participating in that but we’re not really in a position to advocating for much more because we’re not the largest recipients of that and it’s kind of a minimal return for whatever advocacy we might put into what is already a small budget.”
That’s John Gudvangen, the department head of financial aid at D.U, he’s explaining how the University of Denver thinks about and approaches the funding they receive from the state.
Now that you understand the state’s budgeting concerns, you should understand how that trickles down to private universities, Like D.U.
“I mean it’s one small piece of what we provide to students to help them afford a D.U. education and to help them meet their needs. For us it’s not a huge factor, for another private school, it might be a little bit more because maybe they don’t have as much of their own aid for instance. I mean we, for instance, receive about one million dollars in what’s called a Colorado student grant, which we distribute to needy students from the state of Colorado. We’re probably providing one hundred million dollars in aid and that’s merit and need-based aid. You know we’re happy to have it but it’s a million dollars relative to a hundred million, and of course that’s not a comparison because we can only give that money to Colorado students.”
That’s the goal of the board of education, though, they don’t want to be paying for students from other states to attend college within their schools, they want to be nurturing their own state’s education. Besides, the University of Denver’s student body only consists of about 39 percent Coloradans.
John doesn’t make this seem like a big deal Since D.U. does offer such a large amount of money on its own.
But at least one student views it differently, I talked to AJ Stowell, a junior at the University of Denver and a Colorado native, he receives funding from the state that doesn’t amount to much, a little more than 2,000 dollars a year. He’s concerned the low funding doesn’t compete with the funding that students can receive out of state and therefore isn’t keeping them in Colorado for higher education.
“University of Denver has trouble recruiting college level students from Colorado. We have such a limited number of Colorado students here, even though it’s the city, D.U.”
Colorado’s funding per full-time student is already low compared to the rest of the nation. In fact, they are third to last in the category of money spent per full-time student, spending 3,529 dollars per enrolled student in the state. That’s only better than two states; Vermont and New Hampshire. (In case you were curious, the highest per student appropriations are in Wyoming at 17,300 dollars per student.)
Still, there are opportunities for Colorado students looking for a higher education tuition relief. One of the most common forms of relief for in-state students is the Colorado Opportunity Fund (or COF).
A.J. is one of thousands of students who receives money from the CoF fund which works very differently between private and public universities.
“Let’s say I’m a kid that graduated high school at age 18 and I go off to C.U. Boulder and my parents make a million dollars a year, I don’t have any need, right? But because I’m a Coloradan, I’m going to get that 75 dollars a credit in COF funding. But that’s it, you don’t have to send them a FAFSA or a profile or send them tax returns, it’s just because you are a Colorado student. That’s very different than the Colorado Opportunity Fund that’s available to private schools. For our students, it’s only for Pell eligible students and only at half the rate. So it’s not meant to be a program for all Colorado students who are going to a private. I mean one could argue that that’s a great way for them to do that because if we’re educating Colorado students that means Colorado state schools are not having to.“
A Pell eligible student is a student without a bachelor’s degree, that is looking to receive aid to further their education. Most upper-level schools in Colorado, public or not, participate in this program.
The COF funding per credit hour at public schools is 75 dollars while at private schools it is only 38 dollars.
Colorado students looking to attend public universities in the state of Colorado can look forward to a reasonable amount of help, just for being from the state. But if you are looking to attend a Colorado private school, don’t expect any special treatment.
Budgeting in Colorado is tricky right now, and although the board of higher education has the student’s best interests in mind, they are struggling to compete with other budgeting demands.