ALAMOSA — A rare campus visit from the Colorado Department of Higher Education allowed local representatives from the Adams State Board of Trustees to hash out long- and short-term goals with the department on Tuesday. Aware of Adams State University's situation with the Higher Learning Commission and Huron Consulting Group's report, the meeting acted as a follow-up of sorts to CDHE Executive Director Kim Hunter Reed's October visit.
"The state has some interest in more actively supporting all of our institutions than we have in the past," said Andrew Rauch, the director of institutional finance at CDHE. "We found there's been more of a disconnect, particularly with Adams, Western and Fort Lewis."
Rauch first asked the five local trustees what they hope to accomplish as a board. Knowing that the university's finances are in a precarious situation since they need $2.7 million more in annual revenue, ASU Board of Trustees Chair Cleave Simpson wants long-term stability.
"It seems like the university struggles continuously with their financial position, whether that's due to declining enrollment or increase costs or flat state support or declining state support," said Simpson. "I've only been a trustee for three years but I've talked with other trustees that go for 15 years, and it's just been a continuous struggle to really gain some ground and truly have stability."
Simpson mentioned that an economic impact study showed ASU having a $70 million impact locally with a $140 million impact across the state.
"It's really a pillar and foundation of our greater community—not just Alamosa but the San Luis Valley," he said.
Another focus of the meeting was getting ASU to be the most affordable college in the state and having ample scholarships for the institution’s high underserved population.
"We're serving underserved, which is why we're here and what we want to do," said trustee Kathleen Rogers, "but in order to do that and be able to move forward and we wish we weren't so dependent on state funding. It's a challenge, but I don't think there is one person in this room that isn't up for it."
"Your underserved populations the most costly ones to educate," responded Rauch. "So by default, the institutions that are doing that work require more funding."
Along those same lines, the conflicting perception of low cost and high quality was another discussion point. The board wants to erase the "belief gap" and is trying to figure out how to market the value of higher education.
"We have to either provide them an education that's going to get them a job that will pay for their debt or we have to reduce the debt," said trustee Randy Wright. "That's the bottom line. Who is going to go to college knowing they'll come out of college with a debt they can't service?"
"We teach them how to critically think and how to be adaptable," Faculty trustee Robert Benson added. "That's the real value of a higher education. It's not that you have a music degree, but it's that you know how to think creatively."
The board and CDHE also talked about the university's visibility and how turnover of trustees can make it difficult for board to have unified priorities.
"It's 2018 now," said Simpson. "It's going to be very important for the board to establish a direction for the university beyond the 2020 plan. What that looks like, I don't think I could tell you because everybody is so focused on the day-to-day. Really, the whole time I’ve been on the board it's been about the HLC review and financial position."
Rauch ending the meeting by announcing that at the Colorado Joint Budget Committee figure setting for higher education on Monday Adams State University, Western State, Fort Lewis College and CSU-Pueblo will receive $500,000 in additional funding.
"It's not a ton," Rauch said, "but it was put in the model specifically as a statement of value for all of the rural institutions of varying size, regardless of autonomy."
The trustees will have a special meeting today at 1 p.m. to discuss the university's fiscal action plan.