LONGMONT — As the discordant rhetoric over the state’s money woes continues, the leaders of three of the state’s largest higher-education institutions spoke in measured but passionate tones Wednesday, telling of a state on the verge of falling behind.
Larry Penley, president of Colorado State University, relayed the story of a response letter sent by a person being recruited by the university for an endowed chairmanship.
An endowed chairmanship would be an honor, the man wrote, and he liked the pay scale CSU was offering, but he would have to turn the job down.
“I’m turning you down because my state likes higher education,” Penley quoted the letter as saying. “In my state, higher education has a future, and I don’t see that in Colorado.”
Chilling words to a room full of businesspeople, like those gathered for the Longmont Area Economic Council’s biannual Investor Series Breakfast.
University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman and Front Range Community College President Janet Gullickson also addressed the 150 people gathered at the Radisson Conference Center, touting the benefits of investment in higher education, and warning that Colorado was losing ground to other states.
Colorado is 48th in the nation in per capita higher-education funding per student, Penley said, adding that this state provides half the funding per student that Mississippi does.
“Essential changes to (the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights), providing this state with the funding it needs, are absolutely necessary at this point,” Penley said.
Hoffman pointed to several tangible benefits higher education provides, and she urged everyone in the audience to host a coffee meeting at which they could share some facts with their friends, who in turn could tell other friends, and so on.
Among Hoffman’s points:
nFor every $1 of state general fund money the University of Colorado receives, it returns $26 to the Colorado economy.
nCU contributes about $4 billion annually to the state’s budget coffers, putting it on a par with agriculture in the state.
nColoradans with a bachelor’s degree earn 72 percent more than those with just a high school diploma.
During her speech, Gullickson held up the front page of a Denver newspaper, its top story the budget wranglings at the statehouse.
Democrats in charge say they have a plan that they’ll put on the ballot this November. The governor, a Republican, says he has his own plan he’ll press to get on the ballot.
“What I’m hearing is, if two ballot initiatives come out, both will fail? Am I right?” she said, eliciting nods of affirmation from both Hoffman and Penley.
“If you care about higher education, what every one of you needs to do, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or independent, call your legislators today,” Gullickson urged the crowd, a sentiment later echoed by Hoffman.
Gullickson recommended reading Richard Florida’s book, “The Rise of the Creative Class” for insight into how higher education will play a role in the future of the country and the future of Colorado.
“You can tell how successful a community is by the strength of the universities,” she said.
Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291, or by e-mail at email@example.com.