Happy New Year and welcome back to The Beyond High School newsletter.

A new year also means a new legislative session.

Colorado lawmakers will consider proposals to make college more accessible for students coming out of the foster system and for students with disabilities, and they’ll take up an ambitious set of recommendations to help students get the degrees and job credentials they need to succeed in a post-pandemic economy.

But hanging over all of this are basic questions about money: How much will the state’s public colleges and universities get? How will they spend it? What will that mean for students?

At Chalkbeat Colorado’s legislative preview event earlier this month, we heard two sharply contrasting perspectives.

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, said she believes colleges will need more than $120 million just to meet the demands of the pandemic and inflation.

College and university leaders have already made cuts to operations to meet the fiscal demands, and they have also explored cost savings for students, she said.

The outlined funding plan, Zensinger said, wouldn’t help the state meet its goals to educate more residents.

“We are well outside of the range of the amount of resources that we’re going to need in order for our postsecondary institutions just to operate,” she said.

Rep. Colin Larson, a Littleton Republican, said he believes colleges should look for cost savings by cutting administrative costs and by eliminating positions that might be unnecessary due to the pandemic. Students spend tens of thousands to get educated and schools must do everything to ensure students get the best value, he said.

“I do think that we’re going to need to have a hard conversation, an honest conversation, with our higher education institutions,” Larson said.

Until recently, colleges and universities experienced an almost two-decade disinvestment. Gov. Jared Polis has proposed a $52 million increase in state spending for higher education institutions and state financial aid. Polis has said his budget will help colleges hold tuition rates flat.

He’s hammered home he wants to focus on policies this year that makes Colorado more affordable, including reducing the cost of higher education for families.

“If there’s ideas how to do that we’re certainly willing to engage with Democrats or Republicans to get that done,” Polis said.

We will watch closely as this conversation progresses and whether the calls for more funding or cuts, or a combination of both, take hold. What’s your opinion on what is needed to make college more affordable for families?

Please get in touch. Reach me on Twitter at @ByJasonGonzales or via email at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

This item appeared in Beyond High School, a Chalkbeat newsletter by Jason Gonzales about college-going in Colorado. Sign up for your own copy here.

Higher education reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado in partnership with Open Campus.