Advocacy for increased state funding
Advocacy for increased state funding
A message from President Davidson
Feb. 4, 2021
Last week, I presented to the state’s Joint Budget Committee, during which I advocated for more state investment in MSU Denver students. Traditionally, Colorado’s public colleges and universities have signed a joint letter to the JBC advocating for increased funding for higher education. However, this year it was not in the University’s best interest to sign on. During my presentation to the JBC, I made it clear that MSU Denver is making its own case for a different approach.
MSU Denver is calling for a more equitable allocation of state resources to address the growing gap in support for Colorado’s students of color and low-income and first-generation students.
Although I, along with our trustees and other senior leaders, support the call for increased state funding for Colorado higher education as a whole, the letter submitted by the state’s other public institutions did not adequately address the growing inequity in Colorado’s higher-education funding allocation.
Not only has the state ranked near the bottom nationally in higher-education spending, MSU Denver has a $48 million base funding gap between the average four-year university funding level in Colorado. Beyond that, according to a report commissioned by the state, MSU Denver would need a $64 million adjustment to be funded like peer universities of our size around the country.
Funding needs to align with state’s master plan
Our state’s master plan for higher education clearly identifies the need to close the gap in higher-education credential attainment between students of color and the white majority. The master plan says the postsecondary credential attainment rate for whites in Colorado is 64% but 39% for Black adults and 29% for Hispanic adults. The attainment gap between white and Hispanic populations is the second-largest in the country.
As a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution with 48% students of color (including 32% Latino), MSU Denver plays a critical role in closing that equity gap. I am so proud of our efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion. We don’t have it all figured out by any means, but our work is ongoing and we are steadfastly committed to serving our students.
Unfortunately, Colorado has not aligned its higher-education funding with its published master-plan goals. While the state says it has “made erasing these equity gaps – including for our fast-growing Hispanic population – a top priority,” the state has yet to prioritize this as evidenced by the racial attainment gaps and the inequitable funding of MSU Denver. Colorado allocates about 40% less funding per student to MSU Denver, which serves the most students of color in Colorado, compared with the state average.
A master plan without an accompanying funding strategy is just a white paper. It’s not a plan; it’s a wish. Similarly, the funding proposal put forth by the other Colorado schools depends on new money being introduced into the higher-education funding formula, and we see that as unrealistic given the current economic climate. No matter how much money goes to higher ed in this state, the allocation must be more equitable.
Until and unless the state puts funding where its stated objectives are, this master plan will not be realized. If the state would prioritize its own goals and partner with MSU Denver in this vision, we would be able to massively scale what we are already doing to make substantive progress on these critical equity goals.
MSU Denver’s request
What I proposed to the legislature was a multiyear funding strategy aimed directly at the master plan’s objectives. Specifically, I requested that lawmakers close MSU Denver’s funding gap by investing close to $50 million in our base funding over the next five years.
We are not asking to receive fairer funding just to be like everyone else. The pandemic, along with the year’s historic racial-justice movement, has exposed the inequalities we have been living with for decades. We cannot in good conscience agree to anything that perpetuates the status quo and fails to correct longstanding inequity. The state can no longer table this work.
As MSU Denver Board Chair Barb Grogan said at the trustees’ meeting last week, “I believe we have an absolute moral imperative to fix this and to not accept tiny, incremental additions.”
The benefit for the state is obvious: Colorado needs our students to succeed in order to fill its advanced workforce. Companies are spending millions of dollars to recruit talent from out of state while many Colorado students are leaving to attend college at more affordable institutions. Since 96% of Roadrunners are from Colorado and close to 80% live and work in the state long after graduation, increased state support in MSU Denver is a long-term investment in Colorado.
A 2019 study estimated that our alumni have added $53.4 billion to the state economy over the course of their careers, above and beyond what they would have contributed with just high school diplomas. With more support to fund our wraparound services such as advising, innovative career-pathway programs and other essential student interventions, even more Coloradans can become Roadrunners, making even greater contributions to our state as they launch their careers.
Moving forward, we will continue to advocate on behalf of our students throughout this legislative session and beyond. You can join us and support our efforts by participating in the MSU Denver Champions program, which will keep you up to date on these issues and offer you opportunities to engage legislators and decision-makers around the state by sharing MSU Denver stories. We believe it is a moral imperative to seek funding now that will move the needle on closing the equity gap in Colorado.
Janine Davidson, Ph.D.
President, MSU Denver