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February 3, 2009
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State higher education cuts not a huge concern for Colorado Mountain College

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado " Colorado Mountain College's "rainy day" planning has positioned it well to weather the economic downturn. But that's not to say some additional planning and possible future budget adjustments won't be necessary.

"We will see a lot of interesting times in higher education in the years ahead," college President Stan Jensen said at a joint meeting between the college's board of trustees and the community college's foundation's board of directors held at Spring Valley Monday.

"But I am glad to be here, because some other (community colleges) are not so fortunate," he said.

Because the college operates as a special district, rather than being part of the state community college system, most of its revenues, about 73 percent, come from local property taxes.

So the proposed state budget cuts in higher education would not impact the college as much as most other community colleges in the state, Jensen said.

About 13 percent of the college's funding does come from the state, to the tune of about $6.7 million. That amount would be cut by 2.5 percent this year, and another 10 percent next year, he said.

According to college Chief Financial Officer Linda English, the college will explore grants and new programs aimed at attracting more students as ways to make up that funding. In the meantime, a full 25 percent of the college's general fund budget is dedicated as reserve funding, she said.

"That means we have two years worth of state funding set aside," English said.

Of greater concern for the district would be if property tax revenues dropped off substantially. But that impact may not be known until at least the 2010-11 fiscal year, she said.

"If we do see our assessed valuation go down, that's where we would take our biggest hit," she said.

College could actually see an increase in enrollment as a result of the recession, as people who've lost their jobs look to retrain for different careers, and college-age students look closer to home to continue their education. But that could mean more costs rather than increased revenues, Jensen said.

"We are a little different than the normal business model," he said, adding that it costs more to educate students than tuition generally covers.

At $45 per credit hour for in-district students and $75 in-state, college also has the lowest college tuition in the state.

"We are the greatest value in higher education that you can buy in Colorado," Jensen said, adding that a tuition hike or perhaps the addition of a technology fee may need to be considered down the road.

Colorado's community colleges also stand to benefit from a new source of revenue with voter approval of Amendment 50 last fall. The amendment expanded gaming activities in the state, increasing stakes and allowing casinos to stay open 24 hours a day. However, those revenues are not expected to be realized until 2010.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 3, 2009 03:27PM Published Feb 3, 2009 03:27PM Copyright 2009 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.