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Posted: October 01, 2009

State of the State: Education

CSU President Tony Frank sees higher ed funding questions coming to a head

Tony Frank, who became the 14th president of Colorado State University in June, oversees a campus that includes 25,000 students, 1,400 faculty, 6,500 additional employees and a budget that tops $800 million. ColoradoBiz recently sat down with Frank at CSU's Denver office to discuss funding for higher education.

Q. You've had a philosophical difference with your predecessor, Larry Penley. How do you view the university nationally in terms of fundraising?

A. While I think CSU is very important to the state of Colorado, roughly 20 percent of our enrollment comes from out-of-state students. Graduate programs from across the country are always strongly international. I have no difference of opinion with Larry on that.
Larry believed that there was a good opportunity to get investment capital to come into research universities, essentially as an R&D engine, that venture capital would come in and invest in these ideas broadly and that would be a way to increase funds for this institution. I think we can shorten the pipeline. But I'm not so convinced that will generate a large revenue stream that will help support the institution.

Q. What should happen outside the tuition revenue stream?

A. We can sit here and say our tuition is still less expensive than tuition at comparable institutions. In fact, there's some room for tuition to go up. However, at the same time, it's true that tuition has been going up at a much greater rate than inflation, and there is cause for worry about what impact that will have on people seeking education access.

What's actually happened isn't that the cost of education has spiraled out of control ... but we've switched the way the cost is paid for from taxes to the idea that education is an individual consumer commodity. That's a discussion that has incredibly important policy implications - state policy, national policy - and it's one that we've been having silently.

Q. What's going at CSU at the intersection of new energy and research initiatives?

A. For research in general at the university it's a very good time. We set another record for research funding ($312 million for fiscal 2009). Our research proposals for the first time topped $1 billion. A portion of that is in the energy area, and it spans the entire sector. There are people doing good research with wind, solar, biofuels and energy conversion.

- Edited for space and clarity by Mike Cote

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