New plan to boost college and career readiness

New plan to boost college and career readiness

(Colo.) Within the next decade, at least two-thirds of Colorado adults could attain post-secondary education or career training under a new initiative announced by higher education officials last week.

The plan, aimed at satisfying the state’s growing workforce demands while closing achievement gaps among student groups, outlines strategies to ensure than 66 percent of adults in the state have a post-secondary degree or industry certificate by 2025.

“If the state of Colorado is to prepare its students for changing workforce demands while maintaining its high quality of life and vibrant economy, it must invest more in the educational attainment of all of its citizens,” officials from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education wrote in an open letter. “Failure to do so will result in entire segments of our population being left behind, increased social costs and reduced fiscal competitiveness.”

Research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce concluded that, nationwide, an additional 20 million postsecondary-educated workers would be needed to support labor needs by 2025–including 15 million new Bachelor’s degrees, 4 million non-degree postsecondary credentials, and 1 million Associate’s degree.

In Tennessee, lawmakers adopted a similar initiative in 2013 to ensure that at least 55 percent of Tennesseans earn a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2025. As part of the initiative, grants and scholarships for community or technical colleges have been distributed, program developed to help more adults return to college to complete unfinished degrees, and college advising has been improved to reduce the need for remediation. Those efforts, among numerous others, have led to an almost 25 percent increase in first-time community college freshmen enrollment during the 2015-16 school year, with colleges of applied technology enrollment increasing 20 percent.

In Colorado, nearly 75 percent of jobs in will require some education beyond high school by 2020, according to Georgetown University’s 2011 report. Currently, only about 55 percent of Colorado adults have a degree or certificate. In order to meet its goal, 73,500 Coloradans will have to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate over the next eight years.

Three-quarters of the state’s top jobs require skills in science, technology, engineering and math–and many are concentrated in professions such as health care, finance and IT, according to the Colorado Rises report.

Higher education commission officials said colleges and universities must work closely with K-12 schools to align courses to ensure students are ready for post-secondary work, but noted that apprenticeships and other short-term programs leading to certificates and other credentials will also be important alternatives to the traditional four-year degree.

A key factor in meeting the 66 percent goal will be closing achievement gaps among students, higher education officials said. According to state data, white students are more than twice as likely to earn a credential than Hispanic and Latino students, and about 1.5 times more likely to do so than African Americans.

In an effort to address those gaps, the state is partnering with the Lumina Foundation–an Indianapolis-based organization that distributes post-secondary grants to minority students–to offer a $500,000 in Talent, Innovation, and Equity grants.

State funding for higher education has increased $150 million from 2012, but remains lower than it was prior to the 2008 recession, the report concluded. Education officials noted that while funding is a big obstacle to reaching the 66 percent goal, increasing higher education spending would be necessary.

“Colorado simply cannot afford an undereducated citizenry and an underfunded higher education system,” higher education commissioners wrote. “The strategic goals in this plan are a priority list of ambitious, yet attainable, commitments that will expand opportunities and improve quality of life for all Coloradans.”