Office of the President
President Janine Davidson’s Remarks to the Joint Budget Committee
Davidson shared MSU Denver success stories and her vision for the future of education with members in a bid to increase legislative investment.
President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., provided a statement to the Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee on Jan. 11 outlining her mission to provide the next generation with a path to the American Dream.
In her statement, Davidson referenced the goals outlined in the Colorado Department of Higher Education Master Plan, which center on promoting the talent pipeline through increasing credential completion, erasing equity gaps, and investing in affordability and innovation.
Read Davidson’s remarks and her vision for how a robust investment in MSU Denver and fellow Colorado state universities could change student lives and the face of higher education.
Chair Esgar and members of the committee, good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today on behalf of the students, faculty and staff of MSU Denver.
I did not bring any gifts, but as Tim and I have landed the “happy-hour slot,” I’d like to invite all of you to the Tivoli Tap House on our campus. Beer brewed by our students is on tap – and, thanks to the partnership we have with the Tivoli, if you join our Mug Club, you will be contributing to student scholarships.
Before I get started, I want to thank a few of our Board members: Barb Grogan, Jim Mulligan, our student trustee, Lacy Hyde, and our Student Government president, Justin Darnall.
I want to start by offering my appreciation for all the hard work on this year’s budget. I am particularly pleased to see the proposed increase in higher-education funding of $120.9 million.
This investment is more important than ever, as I believe we are at a critical inflection point in Colorado. As Dr. Dan Baer pointed out to the committee earlier this week, while Colorado’s economy has been first in the nation lately, this has mostly been fueled through imported talent, a strategy that is not sustainable. We will not be anywhere near the top economically within five to 10 years if we do not start to address the yawning gaps we have in higher education and start seriously strengthening the talent pipeline to provide skills employers need. And, in so doing, I might add, also fortify our democracy with a well-educated civil society.
This is why we are all here today. We are passionate about education. About providing the next generation with a path to the American Dream.
These objectives are reflected clearly in the goals of CCHE’s Master Plan, which is rightly focused on promoting the talent pipeline through increasing credential completion, erasing equity gaps and investing in affordability and innovation.
So let me get right to the most important – if slightly obvious – point: That is, if we really want to move the needle on these goals, we need to invest in the things we know will move the needle. We need to Fund Our Focus. Unfortunately, while I appreciate the extensive work that went into creating our current funding model a few years back, it is clear to all of us that the formula’s outcomes do not support the goals of Colorado’s higher-education enterprise.
So, I was pleased to see in the briefing document that both the JBC and CDHE staff support a review of the model. I fully support the recommendation for annual checks and adjustments to the formula and for five-year reviews via collaborative dialogue that will ensure alignment with the changing needs of the state.
In the hope that we can begin this process this year, I offer the following recommendations for how to adjust allocations in service to Colorado’s well-articulated goals:
- More weight on low-income, Pell-eligible students.
- More focus on so-called “nontraditional” and returning or adult students.
- More focus on first-generation students (first in their family to attend college).
- More weight on innovations that target employer partnerships: internships, apprenticeships, co-ops and other work-study initiatives proven to enhance grad rates and job placement.
Not incidentally, these are the areas that define MSU Denver’s mission. MSU Denver has more Pell-eligible students than any university in the state – almost 50 percent of our students are the first in their families to go to college, and the median age for our students is 26.
The reason the formula needs to target these populations is not only because they are the exact populations identified in the Master Plan but also because these students often need more support than so-called “traditional” students in order to succeed.
We know from experience that a combination of financial assistance and wrap-around services can make a tremendous difference in keeping these students in school all the way to graduation, thus increasing credential completion and helping close the equity gap.
The TRIO Student Support Services program is an illuminating example. TRIO is a federally funded program that serves first-generation, low-income students or students with disabilities who require additional academic support. Our program currently assists 200 students at a budget of about $1,500 per student, or about $313,000 total per year. These students get more attention and one-on-one mentoring, and benefit from a 50:1 student/advisor ratio, compared with our standard student/advisor ratio of 900:1. The outcomes of the program speak for themselves. TRIO students had a 93 percent retention rate from fall 2017 to fall 2018, compared with the MSU Denver undergraduate average of 68 percent. And 92 percent of the students are in “good academic standing.”
We know we can make a difference in these student lives. And that these students will go on to make a difference in Colorado communities. But we also know that we can’t do this at scale – at the rates called for in the Colorado Plan – without additional funding.
In addition to focusing on these populations off the top of the formula, I’d also like to praise the “Future of Postsecondary Education in Colorado” section of the Staff Budget Briefing, which discusses in detail the focus of my fourth recommendation for the formula focus, “Competency-based, Experiential and Work-based Learning.” Better alignment between workforce needs and education offerings is imperative for higher education today; and, as president, this is a top priority for me at MSU Denver, as I know it is for President Foster as well.
We used the additional funding provided last year to take an innovative approach to workforce development, student retention and degree completion by laying the foundation for a new Classroom to Career Hub. We used those funds to pilot several programs that will link students to careers, including paid internships and community work-study opportunities. We also grew our wrap-around services by developing a peer-mentoring program where 100 trained students provide peer-to-peer support for students in academic, career and life coaching. I’ve provided more specifics on these programs in one of the handouts provided to you.
Our overarching goal is to scale the Classroom to Career Hub, creating real-world learning opportunities for every student AND a workforce pipeline for Colorado’s economy. We want to partner with more businesses and community organizations to develop relevant curricula, as well as internship and other experiential learning opportunities that shape well-rounded, work-ready and homegrown talent.
That being the case, I want to offer my full support for the committee option proposed in the briefing that suggests “expanding the use of work-study funds for work-based learning.”
As the leader of a University where 87 percent of students work while going to school, I know that with additional support we can help students get into jobs that better align with their career goals. In doing so, students will be able to support themselves while they go to school and gain work-ready skills, while employers get to grow future talent.
We already have several successful partnerships like this such as our Lockheed Martin Co-op program. Students in this program work 20 to 25 hours each week for two full semesters in areas such as 3D printing, electronics and even spacecraft testing. The program is more intensive than a traditional internship, so students have more responsibility and are treated as members of the team. The outcome: Lockheed Martin has hired over 80 percent of the students in this program.
But these programs serve only several dozen of our nearly 20,000 students. We need state investment to take these successes to scale across our entire student body.
Beyond the obvious career implications, these types of real-world experiences keep students in school. In fact, last year MSU Denver students who participated in experiential learning activities had a 93 percent graduation rate. So, we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep students in school until graduation.
Lastly, I want to say a word about the zero-percent tuition cap proposed in the report.
I share the objective to keep student costs down. As you know, MSU Denver has the lowest tuition in the state – by quite a margin – and we will work with you to keep it that way.
Unfortunately, without a correction to the funding shortfalls we have faced, a mandatory tuition cap at zero percent puts MSU Denver in a very difficult position. Let me explain.
Although the proposed higher-education funding package seems very generous, it still will not allow us to cover our mandatory expenses or to continue to scale our innovative and successful educational programs that serve thousands of Colorado’s students.
The math simply does not work. I included a graphic in the materials I provided that tells the story. But the short version is this: Years of insufficient state support and percentage-based increases to allocations and tuition have caused lower-funded universities such as ours to fall further and further behind.
The numbers do not add up for a service-oriented business like ours: State funding accounts for 25 percent of our total operating budget. So, a 13 percent increase from the state equates to only a 3 percent increase in our total operating budget. Three percent does not cover our mandatory costs, and it puts us in a very difficult position.
We had a similar problem last year. State allocation enabled us to cover our mandatory costs; but we could not give our faculty and staff raises. In a city and state where the cost of living has risen dramatically, this is a hardship only exacerbated by the fact that employees at other state institutions received a 3 percent cost-of-living increase.
When we can’t compensate our talented faculty and staff adequately and competitively, people feel frustrated; they seek jobs elsewhere. That is not only disruptive for our students; it ends up costing the University even more money.
MSU Denver is a high-quality University with exceptional – and in some cases, world-renowned – faculty. This year, for instance, MSU’s own jazz professor, Ron Miles, has been nominated for a Grammy Award (watch on Feb. 10!) and French Professor Ann Williams was named a “U.S. Professor of the Year” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. I am dedicated to maintaining this level of excellence. And that requires that I am able to pay competitive and fair salaries.
Without additional funding from the state beyond what is currently proposed, I will have no choice but to raise tuition. This is not my preference.
I am hopeful we can work together to find the right balance of state support so that our employees can be fairly compensated and our student-support programs can continue to innovate, without our having to raise tuition.
I’d like to close by saying that a lot of Coloradans are counting on your decisions: 95 percent of our students come from Colorado; 80 percent of our graduates stay in state.
That’s why an investment in MSU Denver is an investment in the state, its people and its economy. We are Colorado.