Guest Commentary: Reward Colorado colleges, like ours, that drive down costs and serve disadvantaged students

Plenty of ink has dried describing the rural/urban divide in Colorado and other places around our country. To be sure, rural areas and urban areas are bound to disagree about some things. But when it comes to serving disadvantaged students on tight budgets with a relentless focus on cost containment, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction agree more often than we disagree.

For example, about half of the students on both of our campuses are the first in their families to attend college. Further, about half of the students on both of our campuses are eligible for federal Pell grants, meaning their families can ill afford to pay for their higher education. While MSU Denver and CMU are located in dramatically different locations, our student bodies look a lot alike and our institutions are mission-focused to create opportunity for students and families. In fact, if the state of Colorado stands any chance of achieving the ambitious degree attainment goals laid out in its higher education master plan, institutions like MSU Denver and CMU need to be firing on all cylinders. And we are.

Earlier this month Gov. Jared Polis released a roadmap focused on bringing down the cost of higher education — an objective both of us support. We lend this support not only as leaders of the two most efficient universities in Colorado; we also lead the two lowest funded universities in the state (per student served). Having waited since 2014 for Colorado to earnestly fund performance, underrepresented minority and first-generation students in the annual budget formula, we also may lead the two most patient universities in the state. As Gov. Polis and leaders under the dome begin rolling up their sleeves to revamp how colleges and universities in Colorado are funded, we have a couple of specific suggestions.

First, reward efficient campuses. Some institutions in Colorado have been working to actually contain costs for the better part of a decade. The state could look at data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System to gauge the ratio of administrators to students campus by campus. Attaching funding to this metric would incent the type of behavior the governor is hoping for.

Next, it is high time to fulfill the statutory requirement to fund first-generation and underrepresented minority college students across Colorado. These students are vital to the future economic success of our state and, frankly, our universities spend more to help support these students in the form of counseling, coaching, mentoring and tutoring. To be sure, transforming lives — and families — is what helps get each of us out of bed each morning. But it’s time for the state to recognize the costs associated with serving first-generation and underrepresented minority students by allocating funding accordingly.

Readers of The Denver Post likely know that, overall, Colorado is a well-educated state. However, we have a long way to go when it comes to serving urban and rural students alike. We look forward to working with Polis and members of the Colorado General Assembly to make a meaningful change during this next legislative session.

Janine Davidson is the president of Metropolitan State University of Denver. Tim Foster is the president of Colorado Mesa University based in Grand Junction.

To send a letter to the editor about this article, submit online or check out our guidelines for how to submit by email or mail.