Higher education funding overhaul seeks Northwest Colorado’s input | CraigDailyPress.com

Higher education funding overhaul seeks Northwest Colorado’s input

Funding discussion held in Craig

Lauren Blair

Moffat County High School counselor Paula Duzik, far left, listens to the conversation Thursday at a meeting held to discuss higher education needs and priorities in Northwest Colorado. Craig was one of many stops that facilitators for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education will make throughout the state within the next several weeks.

— Affordability, access and employability emerged as important issues for higher education in Northwest Colorado at a meeting held Thursday to discuss statewide higher education funding.

Facilitated by representatives for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, the discussion brought together Colorado Northwestern Community College administrators, instructors and board members — as well as various Northwest Colorado community leaders — on CNCC's Craig campus.

The commission is seeking input on the implementation of House Bill 14-1319, "concerning the creation of outcomes-based funding model for higher education," according to the bill.

The bill, passed in May by the Colorado General Assembly, requires the commission to develop a new formula to allocate state funds for higher education. Although the amount of funding available will not change based on the bill, it will overhaul the process by which funds are distributed to each of Colorado's 31 institutions of higher education.

"The bill is going to divide up the amount of general funds that goes to higher education in an entirely new way," said Mark Cavanaugh, chief financial officer for the Colorado Department of Higher Education. "We used to base-fund the system in a more general way, with a plus or minus (dollar amount) from the prior year (for each institution). This is an outcomes- or performance-based model."

Nearly half of the states in the country have gone to this new system, which determines funding amounts based on various performance indicators for individual institutions.

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"It's trying to value things like degree completion — or certificates — and values other things, too, like how do you approach remediation?" Cavanaugh said. "What are you getting out of the other side of it?"

The change comes partly in response to residents and legislators who have complained that taxpayer dollars for higher education are not tied to results, and little information is available for how those dollars are being spent and what value they are providing.

The turnout Thursday was the largest that public outreach facilitators for the commission had seen thus far on its tour of Colorado, including stops in Sterling, Grand Junction, Gunnison and Durango. The commission’s outreach will continue with meetings in Glenwood Springs and more than a dozen sessions to be held on the Front Range from Fort Collins to Trinidad.

"Our commitment to education is why we have this number of people here," CNCC Dean of Instruction Donna Theimer said at the meeting. "They see it as the future of this area."

Craig Mayor Terry Carwile agreed that CNCC is an important economic driver for the region.

"To me, it seems like (CNCC) is going to be an economic game-changer in the future. There is the potential for it to be a great impact on the community," Carwile said.

One of the major strengths voiced by several participants was CNCC's responsiveness to the community's needs and local employers, providing training in areas that feed students directly into jobs within the community.

"It gets them into the workforce," Theimer said. "More than any other college, we are workforce-based."

The bill requires the completion of several steps, including public outreach and detailed modeling in terms of real costs and figures for higher education in Colorado, before it can be implemented. An explanation of why higher education costs what it does will also be provided to inform legislators and the public about where the funding goes.

Once these steps are complete, an executive committee of 10 to 15 individuals, which will include CNCC President Russell George, will make recommendations to the commission on the findings, which will then make recommendations to the legislature for implementation of the bill.

"To me, that's true investment," Carwile said. "You invest in education, and you build for the future."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.