College Vouchers Could Provide Model for K-12

Published February 1, 2003

Instead of paying more than $460 million to Colorado’s colleges and universities to provide a hidden subsidy for the tuition charged to the state’s 200,000 students, a nine-member blue-ribbon panel appointed by Governor Bill Owens has proposed giving the money to students as college vouchers to reduce tuition directly. At present, no state distributes college funds in this way.

“We believe this concept would be a motivator for kids” to continue their learning after they leave high school, Colorado Commission on Higher Education spokesperson Joan Ringle told the Denver Post. Members of the blue-ribbon panel also said vouchers would stimulate more competition among colleges to meet students’ needs. Another aim is to make college more accessible, especially for low-income students.

As a result of the panel’s work, “vouchers” has become “an encouraging new buzzword” in education in Colorado, according to a December 2 editorial in the Rocky Mountain News. The editorial looked favorably on the voucher plan, which is under serious consideration as a solution to some problems and inequities created by implementation of the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). If vouchers do become a reality in higher education in Colorado, they are likely to serve as a persuasive model of how K-12 education funding could similarly be directed to students rather than institutions.

The panel has proposed a universal college voucher of about $4,000 a year that would be given to all Colorado citizens who graduate from high school in the state. The voucher would be used to pay for tuition, up to a maximum of 140 credit hours, and obviously would make up a much larger percentage of tuition at a community college than at a state college or university. Currently, Colorado’s community colleges are less affordable than those in other states, and Colorado ranks low nationally in the proportion of its high school students who pursue further education.

For more information …

see “Funding Higher Education in Illinois,” Heartland Policy Study No. 60 by Cecil Bohanon. “Higher education in Illinois is facing difficult challenges,” Bohanon wrote in 1993, “but a voucher system would empower university administrators and students to reform. Such market-based decision-making is far superior to fiat reforms.” Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for documents #3646 and #3647.