It’s time to rescue higher ed

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By Greg Romberg

As Colorado has sunk further and further into economic distress, the biggest losers have been public institutions of higher education, the students who need to be educated and the employers who need an educated workforce. There is now a plan to address the problem, and Coloradans must come together to support it.
The vast majority of state resources are used for prisons, Medicaid and education. There is little leeway in what must be spent for all of them except higher education. Increased tuition can generate additional funds. Those factors have made it a given throughout the country that state revenues for higher education have been reduced and partially backfilled by higher tuition rates on students and their families.
Higher education officials have been working for the last couple of years to develop a dedicated funding source for higher education in our state. Earlier this month, they announced five different options to fill the gap. If voters approve two of the five options, enough money will be generated to restore many of the cuts and to lessen the cost for in-state residents to attend college in Colorado.
The options involve sales tax, income tax, severance tax and property tax. While it is clear that voters have little appetite for a tax increase during the current recession, it is absolutely time that we make this investment in our future. Colorado boasts the highest percentage of college graduates in the country despite the fact that we send a relatively small percentage of our high school graduates to college. Because so many educated people have moved here through the years, we’ve managed to maintain a high percentage of educated people. But, we cannot sustain a highly educated populace unless we have an environment that maintains excellent public institutions of higher education that are affordable for all Coloradans.
Over the course of the next year, it is imperative that Colorado voters think about the costs and benefits of assuring that we have an excellent and affordable system of public higher education for all our residents. An educated workforce attracts business investments that provide well-paying jobs. An educated workforce reduces the need for public assistance as more Coloradans can take care of themselves. An educated population is more active and enlightened, and over time the need for prisons and correctional activities should decrease. Most importantly, there is an inherent value in education and an educated society.
The incremental and almost unnoticeable tax increases that will be suggested are investments that will pay themselves back many times over. It is imperative that proponents of a stable and dedicated funding source for public higher education in Colorado make the case and that Colorado voters listen carefully and vote for our future.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.