Jared Polis and CUSG discuss the rising cost of tuition

Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Graham Crawford at graham.crawford@colorado.edu

The issue of affordability of higher education seems to unite student bodies everywhere. With tuition rates crippling most students when they leave their universities, some individuals are disappointed with the expensive reality they face.

University of Colorado Student Government Director of Legislative Affairs, Jon Heisler, has been focusing on this issue, and has worked to make it a topic of discussion on campus. Heisler feels that there is a disconnect among students and administration, with both parties having completely different perspectives.

“Students just want [the administration] to make classes better, find schools better and make tuition cheaper,” Heisler said.

On the hand, Heisler feels that the administration just doesn’t see this as a possibility. With years of experience in the field, he feels that administrations aren’t working on improving the possibility of better college funding.

To bring this topic to the forefront of discussion at CU, Heisler sought out an opportunity with Congressmen Jared Polis. Polis serves in the House of Representatives, and has made college affordability a part of his platform. The two first interacted when Heisler gave Polis a tour of CU’s campus. During their time together, they brought up the idea of an open table and a discussion of college affordability.

With this, the College Affordability Round-Table with Jared Polis was born. After a series of talks and planning, the event was held on Feb. 16 on CU’s campus. The crowd was filled with CU administration, students and graduate students, as well as members of Colorado State University administration.

As the door clicked shut to mark the beginning of the meeting, the room filled with silence. Polis made his way to his seat at the head of the round table. Students sat eagerly, some with questions prepared and ready to be answered. Others took a more passive approach to the event, scribbling down what transpired. Next to Polis, a student was frantically writing in his notebook, making a scratching noise that mirrored the restless discontent among the students.

Sitting adjacent to Polis was Heisler, who directed the flow of conversation to topics relevant to students.

Polis offered two basic solutions to the problem, both of which are a part of the congressional platform. He proposed a bill that he has endorsed called Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL), as well as the idea of open-source textbooks.

“[ExCEL] will make student loan payments universal,” Polis said.

Polis’s hope for open-source textbooks is that they will allow students to spend less money on books and lower some spending on a student’s higher education.

“This won’t help students now, but will help those who have dual enrollment [and] those who have previous [credits],” Polis said.

Polis also advocated for teaching through a variety of education mediums, which in turn would lower the cost of a student’s education. He gave examples of possible mediums, including attending community college, taking online classes, enrolling in Advanced Placement classes offered in high school and taking concurrent enrollment classes.

“Community college is great,” Polis said. “The preferred model is concurrent enrollment. [Students] can receive college credit in high school, [they] can stay in high school up to five years.”

Although this form of education does allow students to earn college credits for a cheaper price than what is offered at universities, Heisler questions its effectiveness.

“The establishment answer to college affordability problem is we’ll give you AP credit, we’ll give you concurrent enrollment credit, we’ll let you take online courses. You can get all these credits without coming to school, without having to pay room and board, without having to pay the costs of living in places like Boulder and Fort Collins,” Heisler said. “But these classes do not prepare you for the college courses offered at these universities.”

“You basically skip a year of college and a year of tuition,” Heisler added.

Heisler compares this educational process to a scenario in which a student wants to study engineering at CU. The student can take calculus one online, even calculus two and three, but this does not prepare them for the engineering program.

Although the effectiveness of these classes is still in question, this method still stands as a way to achieve cheaper higher education, circumventing the college system.

“This Jared Polis Round Table was really a step in the right direction,” Heisler said. “[It] educated students about politics and about what’s going on at the state and federal legislature and that they are really affecting their daily lives.”

Yet, Heisler feels that CU and its student government can do better as a whole. In the previous school year, CUSG was overfunded by $300,000.

“[This] led to student fee dollars not going to student projects that [students] enjoy,” Heisler said.

“[CUSG] has a massive budget, and we’ve done a poor job of being leaders in fiscal responsibility, and showing the administration that yes, people care how much the cost of college is because look how we’re handling our budget,” Heisler said. “We want to make sure every dollar is being spent in an efficient manner, and we really haven’t done that.”

Heisler is one of the many students affected by college affordability. He is the recipient of a variety of scholarships, and works full time to help with the remaining costs.

“As far as what CU did, it’d be tough to say they did enough because I pay a lot of money to go here. In my mind it’s all too much. But, I think CU did a good job with the state of fiscal policy,” Heisler said. “The state of Colorado has utterly failed to make higher education more affordable to lower income families, middle-class families [and] to people who are having an affordability issue.”

The cost of college in Colorado depends on a variety of elements. One hope for students is that taxes can be raised, which in turn would create a larger budget. Yet, this can only be accomplished through an open ballot, requiring citizens of Colorado to vote on the matter. This is the result of the way the state’s constitution is written.

“The problem is that there are a lot of people fighting for the same money,” Polis said. “Although we care about CU and CSU as elite institutions, most voters don’t care.”

Higher education funding makes up only 9.8 percent of the Colorado’s budget. With the growing nature of the state, and the dynamic personality of a state budget, the overall cost of college can fluctuate.

It’s hard to tell as of now, but the conversation of lowering this crippling price has begun on CU’s campus, and individuals like Jon Heisler and Jared Polis are getting us closer to answers.

Graham Crawford

Graham is a Journalism News Editorial student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His hobbies include snowboarding, road cycling, and hiking the Flatirons.

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