Higher ed panel wraps it up

The committee that’s been studying the future of state colleges and universities finished its work Wednesday with unanimous approval of a strategic plan that warns of the looming crisis facing higher education and recommends increased tax support for the system.

Cover of Colorado higher education strategic plan“I think it’s a product that we can all be proud of. I hope it just doesn’t end up on somebody’s shelf,” said committee co-chair Jim Lyons.

The plan will be formally presented to Gov. Bill Ritter and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education at a meeting Nov. 4. The ball then will be in the commission’s court to refine the strategic plan if it chooses, adopt it and make recommendations to the legislature.

“We will use it to the very best of our ability,” Jim Polsfut, a member of the steering committee and also chair of the CCHE, said Wednesday. “I don’t know of any particular disagreement by CCHE members right now.”

The 12-member steering committee included Polsfut and CCHE member Greg Stevinson, and several other commission members served on the four subcommittees that developed preliminary recommendations for the steering group.

Ritter, who kicked off the whole process late last year by appointing the steering committee, isn’t running for office so won’t be involved when the debate about the future of higher education shifts to the Capitol next year.

Don Elliman, an ex officio member of the steering committee, noted the unpredictable future facing the proposed strategic plan. “If the new administration doesn’t buy into it, you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.” (Elliman is state chief operating officer and a key Ritter advisor.)

The committee’s strategic plan is titled “The Degree Dividend, Building our economy and preserving our way of life. The document’s cover also includes the admonition, “Colorado Must Decide.”

The document makes three key assertions:

  • Higher education is an asset that supports Colorado’s quality of life.
  • The state system “is dramatically off track” and falling behind in meeting state needs.
  • Colorado needs to both increase funding for higher ed and focus on significantly improving completion rates for certificates and degrees.

The plan offers four broad recommendations, backed up by specific suggestions for achieving them:

  • The state must increase its investment and ensure affordability for students.
  • Regional, ethnic and income gaps in admission, retention and completion must be reduced.
  • Systematic improvements are needed in the pipeline for students to move from high school into college.
  • The structure of higher ed must be set up to allow for advancement of statewide priorities – such as increased enrollment and completion – that might be beyond the missions of individual institutions.

The text of the report also evaluates the likelihood of achieving those recommendations under each of four funding scenarios – labeled Accelerated Erosion, Losing Ground, Restoration and Competitive. While steering committee members acknowledge that the short- and mid-term funding prospects are bleak for higher ed, they clearly support the Competitive model, which would involve tripling of state support to about $1.5 billion a year.

Many observers believe the most likely financial prospect is Accelerated Erosion in 2011-12, which the committee defined as state funding of less than $550 million a year.

(Read the final text of the full report.)

Jim Lyons and Dick Monfort
Jim Lyons (left) and Dick Monfort, co-chairs of the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee, review materials at start of the group's final meeting Oct. 27, 2010.

Although the report was virtually done except for last-minute tweaks and printing, committee members couldn’t resist reprising discussions that have dominated the process since the panel’s first meeting, held nine months to the day before Wednesday’s final session.

The steering committee’s work and the proposed strategic plan surfaced a number of touchy issues, including funding, the role of the CCHE, the organization and capacities of the state system and the missions of individual colleges.

Here are highlights from (and background on) the last-minute conversation Wednesday:


Polsfut wondered if the committee should be more specific about possible sources of additional revenue for higher ed. (The plan lists possible sources but makes no recommendations.)

“I think there are some jurisdictional limits on what we can say,” said Lyons, meaning those decisions should be up to CCHE and the legislature. “I think we’ve reached the limit.”

The other co-chair, Dick Monfort, said he felt the panel should specifically recommend that a funding proposal be made to voters in 2011. Members agreed with that idea. “No reason we shouldn’t hold their feet to the fire,” said Lyons, speaking of legislators, who would have to decide on any state-proposed ballot measure.

Monfort also raised the issue of whether the report should go into more detail about how money is allocated to individual colleges, but Lyons said, “I think it would be usurping the CCHE.”

‘Governance’ vs. ‘oversight’

Steering committee members have made it clear they favor a stronger CCHE, an idea resisted by some college presidents and trustees. In an effort to ease that sensitivity, the panel agreed to scrub the strategic plan of the word “governance.” Lyons said, “We’re emphasizing coordination and oversight in place of regulation. … Governance for individual institutions will remain the same.” (All state colleges currently have their own appointed boards of trustees. The University of Colorado, Colorado State University and community college boards oversee multiple campuses.)

The plan recommends that CCHE launch a study of each college and university’s role and mission and make recommendations to the legislature. Some college leaders, such as Metro State President Steve Jordan, believe the state system currently is weighted too much toward research universities at one end and community colleges at the other.

Several panel members agree with Jordan’s view that the state needs to increase capacity at four-year institutions to serve the needs of the minority and first-generation students who will be the largest group of new students in the future.

Greg Stevinson and Ray Baker
Panel members Greg Stevinson (left) and Ray Baker confer during the meeting.

Some universities, particularly the University of Colorado system, vigorously disagree with the notion that they aren’t able to serve new kinds of students and are fearful of a potential funding shift that could affect them.

Support of graduate programs

The proposed plan favors – in concept – giving more state funds directly to students (currently done in a partial fashion through the College Opportunity Fund) and less directly to institutions (known as fees for service). That prospect that makes some institutions, particularly those with expensive graduate programs, uneasy.

(The plan also suggested that colleges be funded partly on the basis of performance – like graduation rates – but not until after overall financial support of higher education increases.)

The strategic plan specifically mentions only two expensive graduate programs – CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus and Colorado State University’s veterinary medicine program – as services that might need direct state support.

There was some discussion Wednesday about whether the committee should expand that list, but it decided not to do so. “The specific balance has to be decided by the CCHE,” said member John Bliss.

Metro’s Jordan has been the most supportive of the strategic plan’s direction, while leaders at CU, the University of Northern Colorado, Mesa State College and, to a lesser extent, the Colorado School of Mines have raised more concerns.

(Read the institutions’ formal comments here.)

The idea of writing a new strategic plan started jelling in the Ritter administration during the summer of 2009 but initially was delayed after then-higher ed director David Skaggs abruptly left his job, reportedly after a disagreement with Ritter over the plan process.

The governor and new director Rico Munn got the idea going again late that year, and Ritter appointed panel members just before 2009 ended. Committee deliberations bogged down a bit in August, when the time came to start making specific recommendations, but in the end the panel met its deadline and seemed happy with its work.

“I think the report as modified is perfect,” said Stevinson.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”