Almost any candidate running for a seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents will say they want to make sure college is affordable and accessible to students and families.
Such is the case in the race for the 3rd Congressional District’s seat on the board that oversees CU’s four campuses and nearly $3 billion budget, contested by Carbondale resident Jessica Garrow and Glenn Gallegos of Grand Junction.
However, both candidates bring a different perspective on how to keep college affordable, and on where CU’s leadership should focus its attention.
The nine-member Board of Regents includes a representative from each of the state’s seven congressional districts, plus two at-large members. All serve staggered six-year terms. The races are partisan, with Garrow running as a Democrat and Gallegos as a Republican.
Garrow, 30, is a long-range planner for the city of Aspen who graduated from CU in 2004 and also holds a master’s degree from Ohio State University. She said she jumped into the race because she is upset over sharp increases in tuition over the last decade, where the cost of an in-state education has jumped around 10 percent a year on average.
“I’m able to live and work in the Roaring Fork Valley because of the high-quality, affordable education I got from CU,” said Garrow, originally from Littleton. She said she wants to make sure future prospective students have the same access to opportunity.
With state funding for the university continuing to fall, Coloradans need to consider what it means to properly fund a public institution, Garrow said. She is willing to consider long-term options like increasing state funding, which may mean asking voters for a tax increase, and tweaking the state’s complicated and often conflicting budgeting laws, such as TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23, which limit the amount of revenue the state government can collect and spend.
“My approach is all of the above,” Garrow said. “You have to have everything on the table.”
Gallegos, 62, who has served as a trustee for Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction and works for his family’s construction business, said he would listen to any proposal brought forward to stem tuition increases, but he doesn’t think a tax increase is likely to succeed in the current economic climate. Before he would consider asking for more revenue, Gallegos said CU and higher education in general have to address what he sees as a lack of confidence from the public.
“Let’s show the public some results,” said Gallegos, who also worked in K-12 education in Mesa and Eagle counties as an administrator, teacher and a coach for 26 years.
The history of tuition increases, the difficulty some grads have finding a job after completing their higher education, and a perception that universities are “indoctrinating students” have served to harm the public trust, said Gallegos, who graduated from Western State College and holds a master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado.
Combining or eliminating some degree programs could save the university money, Gallegos said. Regents should rely on student evaluations of their professors and their educational experience as they go about making those tough decisions, he said.
The university also could tap the land it owns throughout the state as a potential source of funding. Gallegos said he would consider a more robust effort to lease the mineral rights on those lands to oil and gas developers.
In general, a robust economic recovery is the best hope the university’s funding picture has, he said.
“That’s probably what we all need to hope for,” he said. “In the meantime, there’s not a lot of state money.”
Garrow said she too wants to look at consolidating degree programs and eliminating redundancies that exist between the campuses of CU, Colorado State University, and other state universities and technical colleges. She also wants to see more CU outreach to Western Slope communities, with a more robust online education presence.
Both candidates say they support changing the rules so that in-state students are “locked in” to the tuition rate they pay in their first year, instead of being subject to increases each year as they currently are (out-of-state students already get a “locked-in” rate).
Garrow said she doesn’t buy the “indoctrinating students” line, and that her experience at CU — where she majored in political science — exposed her to professors who “taught you how to think and defend your ideas.”
Gallegos said that he believes indoctrination is a real issue, and “whether or not I believe it, the public does.”
Gallegos points to his decades of experience in education, his service on another state university’s board and his business experience as the key reasons why voters should choose him.
Garrow highlights the age and gender imbalances on the current board — where there are just two women and one person under 40 years old — as reasons voters should consider a change.
“If you want more of the same, you don’t want someone like me,” she said.