After years of underfunding by a Republican state legislature and Governor, public higher education in Colorado is in terrible shape. In a 2006 report, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) highlighted this condition that compared the percent of funding Colorado institutions receive relative to other benchmark institutions. NCHEMS noted, "In order to fund all state institutions at the same level as the average - not the highest - peer benchmarks, it would require $848M in revenues in today's dollars." In another 2007 report, noted Colorado economist, Tucker Hart Adams, observed that only New Hampshire and Vermont rank behind Colorado in the level of state funding for colleges and universities.
The health of public higher education in Colorado is vital to the economic good health of Colorado and its residents. Adams' report validates this by citing that the state's public higher education pumps $4.25 billion in wages and salaries along with $387 million in taxes into the Colorado economy. This report also notes that Coloradoans with baccalaureate degrees earn 37% more than those with only high school diplomas, and those with master's degrees earn 148% more. Even more compelling is the fact that those with doctoral degrees earn 239% more, and those with professional degrees, such as medical doctors, lawyers, earn more than three times that amount.
The business community frequently points to the fact that having an educated and qualified work force is one of the primary reasons businesses relocate to Colorado. In addition to public higher education providing jobs, wages and local tax revenues, Adams' report also points out that higher education is a major primer to the formation of new businesses in Colorado. She cites that the University of Colorado alone has spawned at least 60 new companies associated with faculty research. According to the president of the University of Colorado, state research universities brought into the state over $1 billion in externally funded research the past year alone.
When the state falls short of revenues to fund K -12 public education, social services, Medicaid, transportation, criminal justice and other mandated state responsibilities, as it has in the past decade, adequate funding for higher education suffers. Public higher education in Colorado is in dire financial trouble. Just raising tuition will not solve the problem. Unless we collectively work together to address short and long term needs, we are jeopardizing our own future and the future of this state's next generation of wage earners and taxpayers. The funding crisis for higher education in Colorado speaks like no other issue to the need for comprehensive tax reform in this state.
I am committed to trying to find a method that will adequately fund Colorado's public higher education. In addition, I support finding ways to making college accessible to all Coloradoans who have the ability and desire to avail themselves of higher education. The stakes are high, not only for Colorado, but also for the nation.