Friday, September 2, 2016

Requesting a Legislative Audit of the Colorado Community College System

To the Legislative Audit Committee:

We have been advised by several lawmakers to seek a Legislative Audit of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS). All the data available to us, as well as the system's spending patterns, suggests the CCCS can well afford to compensate their teachers equitably. Yet the CCCS insists they simply do not have the funds. We would like to determine if this claim is an objective assessment, a subjective judgement invoking legitimate system priorities, or an attempt to mislead legislators and taxpayers. Please let us know what steps we need to follow to begin the process. Here is a brief rationale for the audit:

You may be familiar with our two recent bills that sought to redress the abysmal working conditions of half of the CCCS workforce, namely its 4,600+ adjunct faculty who teach 80% of all the courses 13 colleges offer. By far most of these adjunct professors are at work in the cities along the Front Range, where adjunct faculty average between 60-75% of the total faculty on any given campus. The backbone of  the CCCS teaching are paid poverty-level wages, have no sick leave, health care benefit, due process, shared governance and fast-disappearing academic freedom.

A 2014 State of Colorado Joint Budget Committee report determined the financial health of Colorado’s higher education institutions and rated the CCCS as the largest and most financially secure institution of higher education in the state. Our House Bill 14-1154, as well as our Senate Bill 15-094, sought to make some of that revenue available to the hardworking faculty majority, many of whom are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. Both bills were defeated, largely because the CCCS administration used more than $132K from the CCCS budget to pay lobbyists to make sure the bills were defeated. As a result, morale within the faculty is at an all-time low, and we are losing highly qualified and devoted faculty who can hang on no longer.

Over the past few years, the CCCS ratcheted up its policy of replacing vacated, full-time faculty positions with three or four adjunct faculty. The CCCS now has approximately 500 fewer full-time faculty than it did in 2010, and has hired more than 1,000 more adjunct professors. Throughout this time, it has increased tuition and has spent hundreds of millions on building projects, all the while promulgating the misinformation that enrollment is down. CCCS auditors (KPMG) reported that  the 2008 enrollment was 107,000 with 44,771 FTE.  KPMG reported last month that the 2015 enrollment was 127,000 total, with 53,000 FTE). As of August, 28, 2016, the CCCS website reports a student enrollment of 144,000. CCCS enrollment continues to rise. We now have approximately 37,000 more students overall and at least nearly 10,000 more FTE than in 2008. Even so, adjunct faculty are told routinely each semester by department chairs and administrators that enrollment is down, that this is why their class loads have been cut and why the CCCS cannot pay them equitable wages.

Furthermore, the public and lawmakers are under the impression that the CCCS is barely getting by financially. Nothing could be further from the truth. In January, 2016, Moody’s gave the CCCS an Aa3 bond rating. This is the 4th highest bond rating that Moody’s assigns out of 24 rating categories. In regard to the robust health of the CCCS, the gold-standard credit rating agency concluded: Moody's Investors Service has assigned Aa3 underlying and Aa2 enhanced ratings to Colorado Community College System's (CCCS) Series 2016 Revenue Bonds. The Aa3 underlying rating reflects the large scope of the system's operations, demonstrated ability to produce positive cash flow through different economic cycles, and strong liquidity. These characteristics are offset by pressure on enrollment and revenue growth due to an improving economy and participation in an underfunded pension plan.”   In 2015, the CCCS produced excess operating cash flows of $30.9 million. This result builds on the average annual operating cash flows of $32 million from 2012 to 2014. In addition, reserves are very strong, with approximately $300 million of unrestricted reserves at the end of each of the last four years. Specifically, the primary reserve ratio (reserves divided by total operating expenses) is over 50%, which is extremely strong for a public university. The generation of large cash flows and the strong reserves are the main reasons why the bond rating is so high, and is the key evidence to conclude that CCCS is in very strong financial condition. 

The Financial Statements and Compliance Audits produced under contract to the CCCS by KPMG are useful but they do not provide the detail needed, especially in terms of salaries and benefits. One might question, if the system is indeed so financially strapped, why the CCCS spends millions each year on new building projects and why has it expanded to 39 campuses across the state. During this time, as well, the 13 CCCS presidents were awarded salary increases as high as $90K since 2012, bringing some of their annual salaries to as high as $209K. The CCCS System’s president’s salary increased nearly $100K so that her salary is now double that of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. She also may be awarded an annual bonus of 15% of her salary. Furthermore, one might question why so many college presidents, some of whom are already paid over $209K per year, qualify for yearly 15% bonuses, but that, too, is a policy enacted by the CCCS governing board, the State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education (SBCCOE). Also, recently, the last, remaining full-time faculty (averaging 90 or so per college) were given salary increases of $188/week, bringing their per-three-credit-hour class pay 2/3 higher than that of the average adjunct faculty member. Meanwhile, the adjunct professors who teach the lion’s share of the 29,000+ classes the system offers were given an average raise of just $4.80/week, bringing their average per-three-credit-hour class pay to just a bit over $1,834. One also might ask how many vice presidents Colorado needs in higher education, given that the 13 colleges of the CCCS now employ 48 of them and their salaries range from $72 to $181K. This is especially puzzling, given the CCCS untrue claims that enrollments are down and the system is strapped. Indeed, program prioritization initiatives the CCCS are promoting are predicated on college systems that are in financial exigency, and the CCCS, most decidedly, is not.

The Integrated Post Secondary Data System reports are useful in making the case for a more equitable distribution of CCCS revenue, but we need the further detail only a Legislative Audit can provide.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Caprice Lawless
2nd Vice President
American Association of University Professors