The University of Colorado is on a roll, there’s no question about it.
Last year, donors contributed $133.5 million to CU, a high mark for the system. This year’s efforts proved to be even more lucrative. University fundraising efforts netted a whopping $162.5 million, the most in the history of the university.
But when you look at the breakdown of the university’s total budget, the picture gets a little uglier. Financial gifts make up 6.8 percent of CU’s total annual budget of $2.4 billion. And it’s a good thing, too, since Colorado’s contribution is only 8.8 percent, one of the smallest state contributions to a public university in the nation.
It’s a problem that has plagued Colorado for years, and we, along with a lot of people in higher education, hoped the election of Gov. Bill Ritter would change the way the state spends its money.
Sadly, that hasn’t happened where higher ed is concerned.
In the past, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education has favored funding community colleges rather than the state’s premier research institutions. While it’s a popular decision from the standpoint of blue-collar voters, it does nothing to secure Colorado’s future as a renewable-energy hub and a beacon of clean industry.
For now, Ritter has devised a plan that would mainly provide money for scholarships to students by using severance-tax money, funds derived from oil and gas extraction
Sounds good, right? Who wouldn’t be in favor of scholarships for the state’s exemplary students?
Well, CU’s president, Bruce Benson, for one. The university’s objection isn’t to students getting more money for school. CU’s beef is with the fact that the money won’t be going into its operating funds, with which the system builds and maintains facilities and recruits top-shelf faculty and graduate researchers. So far the plan, proposed as Ballot Initiative 113, hasn’t been certified.
Ritter says he wants Colorado to be a leader in the renewable-energy industry. The establishment of a ConocoPhilips clean-energy campus in Louisville is a big step in that direction, to be sure. But who will work there? Will it be a graduate of Front Range Community College with a two-year degree or a CU researcher with a Ph.D.?
The answer is obvious. The state should fund all its colleges, but research institutions such as CU should get the lion’s share of any allocations. Money spent on clean industry in Colorado means more money in the bank and less smoke in the air.