On Feb. 4, Chancellor Venkat Reddy spent the afternoon back in familiar territory: teaching class in Dwire Hall.
Reddy – who remains a tenured professor of finance even as he serves as UCCS chancellor – was in good company. Joining him for class were Colorado College president Jill Tiefenthaler and 15 students from the upper-level economics course she teaches each winter on the economics of higher education.
To supplement discussions about economic theory, data analytics and the changing financial realities of higher education, students in the class meet with local and national experts in higher education finance. This marks the second year that the class has visited UCCS to speak with Reddy, who holds a Ph.D. in finance and served as dean of the College of Business for 13 years before being named chancellor.
In his lecture, Reddy explained the financial realities public universities face.
“When I began teaching here at UCCS in 1991,” he said, “a substantial percent of our budget came from the state – a very healthy amount. Today, we receive 10 percent of our budget from the state.”
Touching on the many services that universities are expected to provide – from career counseling to mental health services – Reddy remarked, “As state funding has decreased, the cost of the college experience has only gone up.”
He continued, “We don’t have enough resources. And we work on a very unconventional business model. This is a business model that charges less than it costs to deliver the product. The tuition that students pay is not sufficient to educate them. So, we have to figure out different ways to close that gap without increasing tuition and the burden on our students.”
Reddy explained different methods UCCS and other public universities use to supplement shrinking state funding, including building fundraising relationships with alumni and donors and partnering with private companies to share the costs of new buildings and programs.
He also described the tuition tightrope that UCCS walks in an effort to remain affordable.
“We are very mission-aligned,” he explained. “As a campus, we work very, very hard to contain costs and reduce the burden that tuition puts on our students. But when state funding decreases and you choose to keep tuition flat, there are real consequences.”
He continued, “You may help all of the students enrolled that year, but what unfortunate consequences do you face because you have no revenue? You might not be able to give pay raises to your faculty and staff. You might lose good faculty or not be able to recruit good faculty – faculty who make a difference in the classroom. You might not be able to offer new programs to your students. You might not be able to upgrade your library or your computer services.”
He concluded, “There are real consequences, no matter what you decide to do.”
Reddy answered questions from Tiefenthaler and students about the changing financial landscape in higher education. Students asked about the high cost of student services like mental health counseling, the loan forgiveness programs proposed by several Democratic presidential candidates and UCCS’ potential to grow in size and capacity over the next decades.
He concluded class with thoughts on the future of higher education funding.
“We have disinvested in education in this country, which will set us back for decades to come if we don’t start thinking about how to fix it,” Reddy told the class. “You could say I’m biased, because I work in higher education. Yes, I’m biased – I’m biased for a more highly-educated population in this country so that we can compete with the rest of the world.”
Still, Reddy sees solutions for keeping education affordable, if universities are willing to be creative.
“We have to get comfortable with change,” he said. “And we need to get smarter about engaging with industry. One thing I want to ask our industry partners is, ‘Are you willing to provide a loan to a student so they can graduate and come work for you, and you can write off the loan?’ We need to be thinking thoughtfully about how we, as a society, will solve this problem.”
At the end of the day, Reddy is focused on access and affordability for students – and giving them an experience that will ripple outwards to positively affect their lives.
“Higher education is not just about helping our students to get good jobs,” Reddy said. “It’s also about shaping individuals to be strong citizens. People who are educated live healthier lives, and they go out to make a difference in their communities.”
“We’re not here to make money,” he concluded. “We’re not here for a profit. This is all about making an impact on our students and our community.”