Date: 01/22/2009

Discussion About Approval Process for Higher Education Cash Projects


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07:43 AM -- Discussion About Approval Process for Higher Education Cash Requests

Several representatives of higher education institutions came to the table to discuss the current approval process for higher education cash-funded requests. Representatives included Ms. Kelly Fox, Interim Vice-President of Budget and Finance, University of Colorado (CU) System; Mr. Rich Schweigert, Chief Financial Officer, Colorado State University (CSU) System; Ms. Kirsten Volpi, Senior Vice-President for Finance and Administration, Colorado School of Mines (Mines); and Mr. Randal Haack, Chief Financial Officer, University of Northern Colorado.

Ms. Fox began the presentation by acknowledging the current economic climate and expressing her concerns about project delays caused by a lengthy approval process for cash projects. She explained that higher education institutions have a system of shared governance, which requires careful review of new projects at the college or university level before projects are submitted to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) or the legislature for approval. Ms. Fox explained that streamlining the CCHE and legislative review process could expedite project commencement by up to a year. She cited the CU-Denver New Pharmacy Research Building project as an example of a project that experienced delays in the required review process.

07:48 AM

Mr. Schweigert said the CSU system is very focused on finding ways to construct new academic buildings on its two campuses. He reiterated Ms. Fox's comments about the need to streamline the review process for cash-funded projects. He also said that it is preferable to start projects quickly when student fees or donor money is involved. Mr. Schweigert addressed a question about the average amount of time it takes for a project to make its way through the approval process.

07:53 AM

Ms. Volpi said Mines has a rigorous internal review process for capital projects. She gave a brief overview of the amount of pending capital projects on the Mines campus. Ms. Volpi then discussed the current climate of market volatility and the importance of flexibility to enter the market when rates are most favorable to bond for new projects. Ms. Volpi addressed questions about campus master plans, how debt is sold by higher education institutions, and student fees. Ms. Volpi explained that when the latest student fee was approved by the students in 2007, it was not contingent on state approval of any pending capital projects. Ms. Fox said the CU system has considered changing its requirements regarding approval of student fees and requiring a vote of all students, instead of a vote of just student leadership. Senator Schwartz asked the committee if there was a way that the CDC could help expedite the review process. Representative Riesberg suggested using a simultaneous review process by CCHE and legislative entities, rather than the current, linear approval process. Ms. Fox clarified that when capital construction projects are constructed with cash funds, these funds come from multiple sources and not just student fees.

08:02 AM

Mr. Schweigert said that the goal of the discussion was not to find a specific solution immediately, but to see if the committee is willing to find a way to expedite review of cash projects. Mr. Haack agreed briefly with his colleagues about the need for an expedited approval process. Senator Bacon expressed his willingness to pursue solutions. Representative Riesberg suggested that the committee continue the discussion about the approval process for higher education cash-funded projects at a future meeting.

08:07 AM

The meeting adjourned.