Four years ago, I was honored to be elected as your statewide CU regent. I campaigned on lowering the cost of college, protecting free speech, bringing viewpoint diversity to the classroom and making sure our graduates get great jobs.
In the win column, I’m proud we’ve pushed changes in policy and law to protect free speech, grown initiatives at CU to teach students how to think, not what to think, helped pass civics programs, created transparency around out-of-pocket college costs, and kept tuition at zero increases for the last several years.
On the other side, the challenges in higher ed are unprecedented and coming harder and faster now.
Students and faculty members with ideas that don’t fit within a far-left liberal ideology are increasingly under fire; spending is shifting to a growing bureaucracy of administrators instead of the classroom; outdated degrees aren’t right for the jobs; socialism is often taught as the economic system of choice; free market enthusiasts are demonized, and college leaders pretend students are happy paying tens of thousands of dollars for a few zoom classes locked in their expensive dorm room.
Earlier this month I advocated at CU for a 20% discount on tuition in the spring as we’ll likely be online again. I also asked that student fees be waived for services that are not being delivered due to COVID. It’s my role as an elected regent to hear our students, to stand for them, to be a voice for them. I was criticized by the administration and faculty for proposing a tuition discount. They told me that cuts to the bureaucracy were absolutely not an option, students knew what they were signing up for, and no refunds were necessary! As a longtime CEO, that’s what I call tone deaf, and dangerous.
While I acknowledge the faculty and staff’s concern about cuts, we should put the students, our customers, first. They are why we do what we do; they are CU.
Honestly, faculty should be more worried about there being a lot fewer students to teach because students are exhausted and finding other options. And there has been a fast rise in administrator hires: Our ratio of non-faculty-to-faculty spending has risen dramatically in recent years. That takes money out of the classroom, away from the faculty.
At CU, in the midst of this pandemic, when there is supposedly no money for tuition relief, we are hiring new high-level administrator positions right now.
We are evaluating “capital renewal” projects and new buildings to invest in on our campuses at the same time we are spending millions of dollars on consultants to figure out how to build our online presence.
We are draining our reserves to guard the status quo. This is the rainy day we pushed so hard to save for the last 10 years for tuition relief — not a general slush fund so we don’t have to make tough but necessary cuts.
Our universities must wake up; families and students sure are.
COVID is an opening for a reset. Leaders in higher ed must reverse years of bureaucratic spending growth to lower costs and create efficiencies. Donors and alumni must demand accountability for their investments. The heavy reliance on federal subsidies should stop.
Our students deserve an education that is affordable, not bloated with expenses that don’t serve their learning. They deserve to learn how to think, not what to think — viewpoint diversity that is critical to an education that will serve them in the real world. They deserve leaders who will stand up for their right to speak out, in the classroom and to their classmates. They deserve an education that prepares them for the jobs of the future!
As regents elected to care for this great institution, it’s time for some tough love for the school we adore. We should take the lead on righting the budgetary ship, respecting and promoting diverse viewpoints, and eliminating outdated programs. Now is the time, pandemic or not, to be diligent, probing and bold in our approach.
Some days I feel like I’m throwing pebbles at a mountain, but I have no intention of slowing down. I love my alma mater, I love the students, I do this for them. They’re our children, our next generation, our hope for the future. I’m writing this because they are not getting what they deserve — and you as my constituents are not either. It’s your university; it belongs to the people of this great state. It’s time for a reset.
Heidi Ganahl is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, author and at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, to which she was elected as a Republican in 2016.