GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The Western Slope can do a better job of sending more of its high school graduates to the University of Colorado, the two candidates for the open Third Congressional District seat on the CU Board of Regents agree.
"Only 8 percent of CU students now come from the West Slope, and we need to work on that," said Jessica Garrow, a Carbondale Democrat running for the Regent seat against Republican Glenn Gallegos of Grand Junction.
Garrow and Gallegos both attended the Glenwood Springs Issues and Answers Forum Wednesday evening.
"We do need to make a commitment as regents from this district to make sure we are better represented," Gallegos said.
Gallegos noted that one hurdle for many families in the largely rural district, which includes some of Colorado's poorest counties, is that CU has "outpriced" many would-be students with rising tuition rates.
"We need to keep tuition low if we're going to get good representation from the Third District," he said.
Garrow believes CU's governing board can also do more to partner with colleges on the West Slope to provide more opportunities locally.
That should include both a physical presence and more options for online classes, she said.
Both Gallegos and Garrow say young undocumented immigrants who went though Colorado schools should not have to pay higher out-of-state tuition rates.
But the candidates differ on whether CU should take an active role in coming up with the special tuition rate for immigrant students.
"Until the state Legislature votes to do that, I don't think we can set a special tuition rate," Gallegos said.
He said immigration reform needs to be dealt with nationally.
"What we're seeing now puts good people in very tough situations," Gallegos said.
Garrow said she supports passage of Colorado's ASSET bill, which would provide a third-tier tuition rate for undocumented students.
"I've met people, even valedictorians of their class, who don't have access to attend college unless they apply as an out-of-state student," she said.
If the Legislature doesn't act, Garrow said it is appropriate for CU and other institutions to make decisions based on "what's right for their campus."
Regarding tuition rates in general, Garrow said students should be guaranteed the same rate when they become seniors as when they entered as freshmen.
Gallegos said he will look for cost-cutting measures in the CU system as a way to prevent more tuition hikes.
"We need to find the quickest way to get people back to work, because that's the way the general fund is operated," he said of state higher education funding cuts that have resulted in more tuition hikes.
"Until then, we're going to have to get unique with the state funding we do receive and we will have to look for efficiencies," he said.
The Issues and Answers Forum provided a rare opportunity to hear from a pair of alternative candidates for U.S. representative from the Third Congressional District.
Independent candidate Tisha Casida of Pueblo and Libertarian candidate Gregory Gilman of Westcliffe both attended the forum.
Republican incumbent Scott Tipton of Cortez and Democrat Sal Pace of Pueblo were unable to attend, as was independent write-in candidate Jaime McMillan of Durango. Statements from Tipton and Pace were read at the forum, however.
(To read op-ed columns by all five candidates, see pages A24-A25.)
Both Casida and Gilman said they would vote to repeal President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
"There is going to be a health care crisis at some point if we don't have some kind of reform," Casida said.
However, a federal mandate for people to buy health insurance is the wrong approach, she said.
Casida said more state and local control is needed over issues ranging from health care to education and energy policy.
Gilman also disagrees with the mandates contained in the health care act.
"We need more transparency in health care, and reform has to come from the medical community," he said.
Gilman said he would let the Bush-era tax cuts expire, while Casida said they should be kept in place.
Gilman said he favors broader tax reform over breaks in certain taxes.
Casida said the "immediate benefit" of keeping the tax breaks in place are important for economic recovery.