This November, voters across the 3rd Congressional District will vote for a new CU regent to represent the entire district. It’s a race that doesn’t get a lot of attention but is critically important to our future as a state.
So why should we care? CU doesn’t have a physical presence here on the Western Slope or in southern Colorado. And if you didn’t attend school there or aren’t sending a child there, it may seem like CU’s challenges don’t impact you. I would argue that this race is one of the most important that we will vote on.
For starters, CU is the state’s third-largest employer, so a successful university means a successful workforce. CU has a $2.9 billion budget, and for every $1 it receives in state funding, the university generates about $40 for the state economy. So in a very real sense, a successful university means a robust and successful economy.
And, in less than 10 years, 70 percent of all jobs in our state will require some form of higher education. So a successful university means we can educate and train Coloradans to fill Colorado jobs.
As a 2004 CU graduate, I know firsthand the opportunities a CU degree provides. Since I graduated, the cost of a CU degree nearly has tripled. That is the reason I got into this race. I don’t want the opportunity for a good job or improved quality of life to be lost on future Coloradans because college was not affordable.
While CU serves many critical roles, the most important thing CU does is educate our future leaders, business owners and philanthropists. And without an affordable and accessible CU system, we can’t fulfill this critical mission.
We are at a fiscal cliff in higher education. State funding has decreased by 54 percent since I graduated, and it’s expected to dry up within 10 years if we don’t take action now. We must find short-term solutions to help students plan and budget for their degree, and we must look for long-term solutions that address funding.
In the short term, I advocate exploring a guaranteed four-year tuition level for in-state students, so they know the cost of their degree up front. We currently do it for out-of-state students, and I think Coloradans should have the same ability to plan and budget for their degree. I also advocate increasing partnerships with the other colleges and universities here in the 3rd Congressional District to create a better connection between the residents of our district and CU.
In the long term we need to work with the other higher education institutions and the state to ensure educational services are delivered effectively and efficiently and that funding sources are secured. We cannot cut our way to success; we must explore methods to continue public funding of higher education. I believe in an “all of the above” approach to addressing educational funding that includes finding efficiencies, increasing partnerships in higher education and seeking new funding sources. That may mean asking voters if they will support funding for higher education, or asking voters if they will fund K-12, thereby freeing up other state dollars for higher education.
I bring a new skill set that will broaden the experiences the Board of Regents already has. I am a long-range planner, which means every day in my job I evaluate how the decisions we make today will impact us 20 years from now. I have experience bringing diverse stakeholders together to solve tough problems. My skills in collaboration and long-term strategic planning are critical skills for this position. And, as a graduate of CU and a former resident advisor and hall director assistant, I have direct knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing the university.
We need regents who will focus on ensuring a quality education that is affordable. We need regents who are willing to make tough decisions and fight tough battles. There are long-term structural problems facing the university and higher education in general. If Colorado is going to compete in a global economy, then we must have a regent who will fight for CU and an affordable education for all Coloradans. I am the best candidate for the job.
Jessica Garrow is a Carbondale resident and the Democratic candidate for the University of Colorado Board of Regents’ 3rd Congressional District. Learn more at www.jessica garrow.com.