The diversity of public and private colleges and universities, including 2-year and 4-year institutions, provides a wide variety of opportunities for our citizens. The increase in offerings of online and distance learning opportunities along with increasing cooperative agreements between our community colleges and 4-year institutions has made obtaining a quality and relevant advanced education easier than ever. However, we all know the cost of that education is growing out of control, with the result that many students graduate or otherwise end their education with substantial, and in many cases, overwhelming student debt. This is not the result of a lack of support for higher education by the State. Between 1999 and 2016, State spending on higher education increased approximately 800%, representing the largest area of increase in the State budget during this time period. The competition for status and prestige among colleges and universities has led them to focus spending on activities that will increase their status and prestige, not necessary on areas that will increase their quality or efficiency of teaching. This drives up overall costs and students have been persuaded to simply take on more student debt to cover those costs.
There are three issues that must be addressed.
- The leadership of the individual colleges and universities must aggressively control their own budgets to reign in, and ideally lower, the cost of their educational programs. While the State government may have limited direct impact on these costs, the State certainly possesses the power to use the level of the College Opportunity Fund to incentivize the individual institutions to bring their costs under control.
- Potential students must be informed of the full cost of their selected program, including tuition, fees, special assessments, room & board, etc., as well as the earnings opportunity that they may enjoy upon completion of their educational program. This level of transparency, which is non-existent today, will result in greater cost competition among the various institutions and act to lower the cost of their programs. It will also provide transparency regarding the success of graduates of their programs in the marketplace, which is the primary goal of the vast majority of students. This new transparency will allow potential students to make an informed decision, in advance, when selecting a particular course of study with a particular institution of higher education, and will allow them to be fully informed of the potential costs and the potential rewards prior to taking on student debt to acquire that education.
- A review should be conducted of the respective roles and value of the Colorado Department Higher Education and the Colorado Commission for Higher Education with the objective being to consolidate the functions of the two groups and lower the overall administrative cost to the State of Colorado.
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