Daily Camera: Pelosi preaches higher ed’s long-term payoff at CU-Boulder roundtable


By: Alex Burness

At a roundtable in Boulder on Friday, Nancy Pelosi joined students, politicians and state higher education leaders in a discussion on college affordability, which the congresswoman said is central to the “Middle Class Jumpstart” initiative she’s been touting.

“Nothing brings more money to the treasury than investment in education,” said Pelosi, Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Our Jumpstart is about jobs, and it’s about education. We just have to have public sentiment understand that if you want to reduce the deficit, you invest in higher education. We can prove that. And if you want to see the value of it, we have to create good-paying jobs.”

Also speaking at Friday’s roundtable, held in the University of Colorado’s Norlin Library, were U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder; CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano; Colorado State University President Tony Frank; state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder; representatives from the Colorado Department of Higher Education; and several CU and CSU student government leaders.

“At the very time that a college degree or some higher education is more important than ever, it’s also becoming more expensive than it ever has before,” Polis said.

But as the Boulder congressman and many others in the room were quick to point out, solving that problem may begin with the public relations quandary that comes with securing funding for education.

“I think people do think it’s important,” Polis said, “But then you say, ‘Do you want to pay more taxes for it?’ And they’ll say no. I don’t think it’s an anti higher-ed vote. I think it’s a ‘I like higher ed, but I like my own paycheck better’ vote.”

Last November in Colorado, Amendment 66, the nearly $1 billion tax hike designed to reform state finance for public education, fell almost 2-to-1. Many voters said they didn’t believe spending more on education would automatically lead to better results for students, proportional to the amendment’s high price tag.

“We’ve got just a huge communications, public relations dilemma,” Heath said, “in how we communicate to the average citizen out there that this is the best investment, that it should be a core value of every one of us. And how we get from here to there just blows my mind.”

The conversation took place as the income gap between college graduates and non-graduates in the U.S. is higher than ever. But for many, earning a degree isn’t nearly as burdensome as paying for it — at public universities across the country, more than two-thirds of students leave with debt averaging about $25,000.

It’s a problem that, on paper, should be amplified in Colorado, where state funding for higher education ranks 48th nationally. Surprisingly, however, no other state is more productive in terms of the number of degrees produced per dollars spent.

“Having traveled the whole country, the cost effectiveness of higher education in Colorado is a model to the country,” Pelosi said. “It’s expensive, but it’s worth it.”

The cost of a degree, many in the room agreed, must be better understood by students and parents lacking in basic financial literacy. Additionally, the notion that public education is well-funded should be abolished, several speakers said.

The stated goal of the Jumpstart initiative Pelosi is backing includes increasing effective early childhood education and passing the “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act” to help Americans refinance their college loans to lower rates.

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