Latest State Budget News, July 24, 2009
I hope you’ve enjoyed all the Friday afternoons that have come and gone this summer without a message from me about the budget … I know I have. But the vacation’s over.
It’s been widely reported this week that Governor Ritter is going to request a waiver to the federal rule that higher education funding must remain at 2005-06 levels if the state wants to retain ARRA stimulus money. Whether this action will be approved &mdash and what that would mean for higher education and CSU &mdash is still unclear. One plausible scenario includes cuts similar to those we dealt with last year, again combined with short-term backfills from the state’s remaining uncommitted federal stimulus funding. The Governor and our state legislators have repeatedly shown their strong support for higher education, but they are limited in their options for addressing the state’s budget crisis. They have been put in an extremely difficult position in trying to balance the state’s budget in light of declining state revenues, and there is a possibility that higher education — like all of state government—could be subject to future reductions.
If that happens, we will evaluate any new reductions thoughtfully, with the full involvement of the campus community and our board. We’ve been conservative in our budgeting and planning, so additional cuts at CSU would not be compounding a crisis as they would at some other institutions. We had anticipated further cuts, and we’re now well-positioned to address whatever comes forward.
We have also heard concerns from members of our state classified staff related to the Governor’s Executive Order mandating furloughs for state employees. This order specifically exempts higher-education employees, so please understand: No one at Colorado State University is required to take a furlough.
All of these issues point to a larger concern, however. How we fund our public colleges and universities for the long term is an ongoing concern that we must address as a state, no matter what happens with this current round of funding challenges. Chancellor Blake and I have been on the road this month meeting with alumni, staff, and community leaders across Colorado, and we’ve talked a great deal about the funding challenges facing higher education and the state as a whole. One point I’ve been emphasizing repeatedly is that our greatest challenge as a state will be to balance the budget without irreparably damaging Colorado’s ability to compete economically now and in the future. Higher education creates jobs — CSU spinoff companies alone created 500 new private-sector jobs in Colorado just last year — but more importantly, we create opportunity for our citizens. Reductions in state funding mean our students wind up shouldering a greater and greater share of the cost to go to school, while the quality and scope of the programs available to them inevitably decline. While we can continue to cut budgets and contain costs on campus, we also need to ensure that our young people have the same opportunity to earn a world-class, public research- university education that their parents and grandparents had.
Our investment in public higher education reaps benefits for the state and its citizens many times beyond what the public invests, in terms of an educated populace, workforce development, economic impact, and quality of life. A national study released just this month shows that Colorado’s return on its investment in state colleges and universities is among the best in the nation (http://www.deltacostproject.org/resources/pdf/Kelly07-09_WP.pdf).
That success is due to the hard work of our faculty and staff in a climate of limited state support. The high quality of a CSU education and the success of our graduates demonstrate how well we’ve succeeded. And we’ll approach any future funding challenges with that same character and commitment.
We’re telling that story of CSU across our state, and my sense is that it’s being very well received. Delivering this message — and turning it into actions that create a stable, sustainable foundation for access to educational excellence — remains the Chancellor and my highest priority. While we work on that critical longer-term issue, our community will continue to manage our short-term fiscal challenges as we did last year — with open discussion and debate, plenty of communication and feedback, and the shared sense of doing what’s best for our university that makes me so proud to help tell our story.
Thanks — and enjoy this great Colorado weekend.