As a relatively new Coloradan, I’ve quickly become inspired by the promise and potential of our state. I can’t think of a better place to live and work. Our communities care for each other. We support each other, rise together and carry pride in Colorado wherever we go. In our community of Durango, there is a shared sense of success between our residents, Fort Lewis College and our local schools.
But despite our care and concern for education and our future, our state’s record for funding higher education and K-12 public schools is abysmal.
As a lifelong educator and college president, I’ve seen firsthand over my entire career the direct benefit between investments in education and the future we all want. This November, Colorado voters will have the opportunity to do just that, without any changes in tax rates. Proposition CC asks voters to lift the arbitrary revenue caps that restrict our investments in Colorado students. We can make community colleges, vocational schools and higher education more affordable, using money that already exists.
When you open your ballot this week, you’ll read: “Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2019, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend under Colorado law, with an annual independent audit to show how the retained revenues are spent?”
That’s why I’m supporting Proposition CC.
In my conversations with Colorado students and families, I frequently hear concerns about the price of higher education. It is a fair concern. The institution that I lead, Fort Lewis College, boasts the lowest tuition and fees of any Colorado institution. But for many Coloradans, in-state colleges have gotten too expensive. Two decades ago, the state funded two-thirds of the cost of higher education for in-state residents, while students paid one-third. Today, the script has flipped, and students are saddled with two-thirds of the costs.
The students arriving at our higher education institutions like Fort Lewis College have greater needs – and greater opportunities – than ever before. Many of them are the first in their families to attend college. They will face shifting demands in the labor market, from artificial intelligence to rapidly changing global conditions.
For the Colorado economy to continue to thrive and compete, we must have an educated citizenry.
As a college president, everything I attempt to do focuses on putting students at the center of our work. While additional funding will not solve every challenge and issue, the estimated $88 million in funding that would come to higher education, just next year alone, could be used to increase financial aid to deserving Colorado residents, increase student support and provide investments in academic programs central to our region.
I am joining educational leaders from across the state in supporting Proposition CC. While this won’t address all of the woes facing our K-12 and higher education systems, it will begin to address the needs of our students and give Coloradans the chance to live up to their potential and build tomorrow’s economy.
Tom Stritikus is a proud Durango resident and father of two sons in the 9-R school district. He has spent his career working in education and is the president of Fort Lewis College.