Ritter appoints Monfort, Lyons to lead new higher education panel

By Scot Kersgaard

Gov. Bill Ritter Thursday announced a strategic planning initiative to assess the state’s higher education systems and develop a master plan for Colorado’s 27 public colleges and universities, which enroll 220,000 students.

Speaking to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and many of the state’s college presidents, Ritter introduced Jim Lyons and Dick Monfort as co-chairs of a steering committee that will lead the effort.

Ritter said the committee needs to create a master plan that engages the business community and that colleges must be able to anticipate Colorado’s workforce needs over the next five to 25 years in order to be successful.

Monfort is vice chairman of the Colorado Rockies and sits on the University of Northern Colorado Board of Trustees. Lyons is co-chair of the Governor’s Jobs Cabinet and an attorney. They will work with Rico Munn, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and Don Elliman, the governor’s chief operating officer.

Monfort said funding is key, but that the state needs to figure out a way to convince taxpayers that the money is going to students, not to colleges’ “fat budgets.” He acknowledged to the room of educators that he doesn’t think the budgets are fat, but said that’s how many people see it and that overcoming that perception will be a big job.

Elliman said higher education is the best economic engine in Colorado.

“We have to get that message out,” he said.

In a press release, University of Colorado President Bruce D. Benson said Monfort and Lyons “are outstanding people who I have had the pleasure to work with for many years.”

“They have a deep commitment to higher education and our state and will do a great job leading the study,” Benson said. “It’s important that it take a thorough look at all our colleges and universities to ensure we can provide high quality, accessible and affordable education for all Coloradans. To achieve that, we have to be realistic and deliberate in how we direct our current low funding levels. We also need to look for new revenue streams to sustain our colleges and universities.”

Ritter, speaking to the CCHE, said it was time for the state to turn its attention to higher education.

“Without question, higher ed is one of the keys to our recovery and our future. It drives economic growth and it opens doors of opportunity for people all across Colorado,” the governor said.

“As we rebuild our economy and position Colorado for strong sustainable growth, we must look beyond just the next year. We need to look out 10, 20 and 30 years. And the only way we get there is with a vibrant higher-ed system that can meet the needs of a 21st century Colorado. Our greatest resource in this state is our people and our families, and they deserve nothing less than colleges and universities that are accessible, affordable, accountable and of the highest quality.”

CCHE Chairman James Polsfut agreed that Colorado needs a “cohesive and comprehensive” plan for higher education.

“This planning process will give us a chance to determine what the state wants out of its higher education system and how we can deliver it,” he said.

As currently configured, the only members of the group are Elliman, Munn, Monfort and Lyons. They will begin work early in January and will add members as needed. Lyons noted that he is not a big fan of meetings, but prefers that those involved agree on what needs to be done, agree on a timeframe and get to work.