The short-term fate of The University of Colorado – a sprawling, financially imperiled institution with four campuses, 56,000 students, nearly 4,000 faculty members – will be decided in November’s election, when voters determine the composition of its nine-seat Board of Regents.
At a meeting Thursday with The Durango Herald’s editorial board, CU’s Regent At-Large Stephen Ludwig, a Denver Democrat, and Carbondale Democrat Jessica Garrow, said, if elected, they would fight to expand Coloradoans’ access to higher education in the face of large budget cuts.
Garrow is running in the 3rd Congressional District against Glen Gallegos, a Grand Junction Republican and Gennaro Connors, a Fruita Libertarian. Ludwig’s race for the at-large seat is a statewide race. His opponents are Dr. Brian Davidson, an Arvada Republican who also ran against Ludwig in 2006; Daniel Ong, a Boulder Libertarian; and Tyler Belmont, a 17-year-old American Constitution candidate from Colorado Springs.
Garrow, who works as a long-term government planner for Aspen, said, “In my work, we say, ‘you have to sell the problem.’ Without state funding, it will be unaffordable for an average Coloradan to go to college – not just at CU – but anywhere in the state.”
Since 2009, the state has cut CU’s funding by more than $120 million a year, a budget shortfall so drastic that CU’s website compares it to a “fiscal cliff.”
While per-student state funding for public universities has fallen by about 20 percent since 2002 nationwide, according to a January report by the National Science Foundation, the starkest decline was in Colorado, where funding plummeted from $6,617 in 2002 to $3,148 in 2010.
Ludwig, who works for the engineering firm CH2m Hill, said CU could mitigate the damage wrought by harrowing budget cuts by innovating. He said access to higher education would increase if CU stayed open during the summer and began allowing students to finish courses at their own rate instead of on the rigid semester schedule.
Ludwig’s most dramatic proposal was expanding CU’s online course offerings by 25 percent.
Led by Stanford and MIT, in the last two years, universities throughout the country have rushed to introduce online courses.
While courses taught online are cheaper to produce than those taught in classrooms, they have provoked the ire of many academics who complain that such courses make cheating easy.
Ludwig dismissed such concerns, citing a scandal that is still unfolding at Harvard, in which 279 students are suspected of cheating on a take-home final exam for the course, “Introduction to Congress,” which was taught in the traditional collegiate format.
Garrow also defended the promise of online courses, saying when she was a CU student, she had attended 300-student lectures. “I just got talked at, and it was not a good learning environment,” she said.
Garrow and Ludwig bemoaned polls that show few Coloradans support expanding publicly funded higher education despite its personal and economic benefits.
On average, people with an associate of arts degree or two-year college earn $41,444 – today’s average U.S. salary – whereas graduates of four-year colleges earn $55,000, and those with advanced degrees earn $65,000, on average. Individuals who did not graduate high school earn $23,452.