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    Posted March 3, 2010 by
    Denver, Colorado
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Schools in trouble

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    Students March to Capitol as Legislators Look On


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     bhavey3 told me, 'There were a lot of people - anything from taking up a city block to a block and a half.'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    Nearly a thousand students, faculty and staff from across Colorado gathered on the west steps of the state capitol in Denver on March 3, 2010, at 1:00 p.m., in an effort to save Colorado’s higher education system before its too late.


    The state of Colorado is facing a $1.3 billion shortfall next year. As states across the country are facing tough economic times, Colorado is particularly burdened due to its Tax Payer’s Bills of Rights (TABOR) amendment in the Colorado constitution.  TABOR essentially inhibits the legislature from raising taxes, providing the state’s general fund with minimal revenue. Out of the general fund's expenditures, higher education is the least protected. In just two and a half years, the higher ed budget has been cut in half. The only thing keeping it afloat is federal stimulus money, or ARRA. However, this money is going to run out by next year, in which case if something is not done, Colorado’s higher education spending is going to be cut another 50 percent.


    In response to high tuition increases, programs being shut down and even some community colleges possibly being closed, hundreds of students from all over Colorado marched from the University of Colorado, Denver's Auraria campus to the west steps of the capitol. To boost morale, students chanted and held up clever signs, saying such things as, “If education was a bank, we would already be bailed out,” and “I ditched school today so my children can go to school tomorrow.” Many legislators observed the spectacle from the capitol building's second story, as students demanded they do the job they were elected to do and find long-term solutions.


    The most realistic solution at the moment seems to be tuition flexibility, which would allow colleges and universities to hike up tuition without the approval of the legislature. Many see going down this road as dangerous. For one thing, the high tuition, high aid model seems inherently problematic. As accessibility and affordability are imperative to a public institution, the tuition flexibility plan needs to assure that there is a debt-load threshold for middle and low-income students. Another essential piece is that the elected Regents are held accountable, with oversight from the state legislature. While it is concerning that tuition flexibility is not a long-term solution, something needs to be done fast. As Metro State College student president said today, “Higher education as we know it is dead in one year if something isn't done."


    - Pictures by: Philip Rogulewski

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