CU’s Benson tackles difficult job

Sisyphus of mythology struggled mightily to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down as he approached the summit, leaving him to try, try again.

Supporters of higher education in Colorado might sympathize with Sisyphus, as they push for a return to stability for funding of the state’s colleges and universities.

University of Colorado president Bruce Benson made a splash recently, announcing plans to poll voters about a possible ballot measure to fund higher education. The prospective ballot measure would be brought forward in 2014 but, beyond that, no specifics have been offered.

The Boulder County Business Report long has lamented the dearth of dollars for Colorado’s institutions of higher education, which have seen funding slashed by $163 million in the past four years.

CU, Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado and other higher-ed institutions represent key drivers of the state’s economy. As the state rebounds from the recent recession, investment in higher ed is critical to an expanding economy and increasing opportunity for our citizens.

Our Discoveries section, published in the Boulder County Business Report, the Northern Colorado Business Report and the Wyoming Business Report, chronicles the contributions that these institutions — and federal laboratories — make to the region’s economy.

The budget cuts that Colorado’s institutions have endured for years have hurt, diminishing the state’s competitiveness with other parts of the country and sending tuition soaring — CU alone approved an 8.7 percent tuition hike recently.

Benson faces a daunting task. Another proposal by state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, would have raised $3 billion for higher education over five years. That measure, Proposition 103, endorsed by this publication, failed miserably at the polls in 2011, with 60 percent of voters rejecting the measure.

Will Benson’s effort end differently? A lot depends, of course, on the details: How much will he seek to raise, over what time period? What else will be on the ballot and what will be the mood of voters? Competition on the ballot with other measures — including a drive for more funding for K-12 education — would diminish the chances of success. How much money will be raised to support any ballot measure?

Benson and other supporters of higher education will need to begin a campaign to educate the public about the vital role that our state’s colleges and universities play in driving the economy and educating the work force. Additionally, voters need a much better understanding of how recent budget cuts have adversely affected the ability of CU, CSU, UNC, et al, to perform their missions and compete with their peers.

Voters recently have not been in a mood to raise taxes. But Benson’s background as a successful businessman, and connections in both Republican and Democratic circles, will be assets in any push to convince typically frugal voters to pull out their wallets.

If this effort is done right, maybe Benson will be the one to push the boulder to the top.

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-440-4950 or via email at


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