Jared Polis Releases Higher Education Plan to Prepare Every Coloradan to Compete in 21st-Century Economy

Plan Focuses on Expanding Access to All Forms of Higher Education — from Certification and Apprenticeship Programs to Community Colleges and Research Universities


Jared Polis today released a higher-education plan for Colorado, focused on saving students money and utilizing cost-saving innovations to prepare students for a 21st-century economy.


“Despite Colorado’s booming economy, many families and students are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to higher education,” Jared Polis said. “It’s becoming more and more essential to have a degree or certification to break into a good-paying career, while at the same time the costs of higher education are putting it out of reach for many Coloradans.


“It doesn’t need to be this way. Together, we can build a path to a successful career doesn’t include taking on a crushing amount of student debt. To make that vision a reality, we need an innovative approach that values every aspect of our higher education system — from dual and concurrent enrollment to certification and apprenticeship programs to community colleges and research universities. Any opportunity to save Colorado families money is an opportunity worth pursuing.”


Polis’ higher education plan includes three key elements: saving students money on their degree, expanding access to all forms of higher education, and bringing more cutting-edge research done at Colorado’s institutions of higher education to the marketplace. Below are brief descriptions of each aspect of the full plan.


Saving Students Money Every Step of the Way

  • Bolster higher ed’s most important watchdog, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, so that it can forcefully advocate for cost-saving measures at Colorado’s institutions.
  • Lower textbook costs by making Colorado a national leader in utilizing affordable, open-source textbooks — an area where Front Range Community College has been at the forefront of innovation. By incentivizing universities to embrace open-source textbooks, we can save undergraduates approximately $5,000 over the course of four years.
  • Help students graduate faster with three-year degrees, by expanding the University of Colorado’s “Degree in Three” pilot program as well as other three-year curriculum options. Initial studies have found that accelerated study options like this can cut the total cost of attendance by 25 percent, with an added benefit of
  • Cut fees on workplace experience in college. There’s only one way to describe the practice of charging fees on students seeking to turn completed internship hours into credit hours that will count toward graduation: unfair. Instead of punishing interning students for seeking workplace experience, we’ll reward them. For a student who successfully completes a qualified internship, this experience will directly translate into credit hours that, without charge, will be guaranteed to count toward graduation requirements. We’ll also expand opportunities outside the conventional workweek and workplace, connecting students with mentors and opportunities online and around the world.
  • Save students money on student loans, by making sure that every student is aware of all available state and federal resources to lower costs and aggressively protect students from predatory financial practices. In the absence of action from the federal government, Colorado will prioritize transparency and make sure that each campus offers lending sessions where students and parents receive information and are matched with financial counselors who can help families make the most educated decisions possible when it comes to private financing of education.

New Opportunities So Every Student Can Achieve

  • Give high school students more access to free college credit through dual and concurrent enrollment. We will prioritize making sure that 100 percent of Colorado’s school districts are able to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs through an Associates Degree or professional certification, and will aggressively work to boost enrollment in them. These programs save students time and thousands of dollars on a degree or a certification, with some high school students even earning an Associate’s Degree before ever setting foot in a college classroom.
  • Lead on workforce development. Through collaborative partnerships between industry, labor unions, school districts, and our two-year institutions, we’ll establish a statewide network of cohesive, collaborative apprenticeship programs, through which students not only can learn a trade that helps them get a good job, but can also gain skills essential to running a small business.
  • Save community colleges money. We’ll explore what savings can be achieved through multi-institutional consolidation of “back-office” administrative functions, such as accounting, IT, and payroll while maintaining individual autonomy over their institutions. States like Idaho, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Pennsylvania have explored and implemented similar programs. This change could allow Colorado to reinvest millions of dollars back into the academics.
  • Deploy a certification task force. Through Executive Order, we’ll assemble a task force of bright, diverse minds from industry, labor and education to determine how institutions at every level — from open admission institutions to post-graduate schools — can develop, adapt, and award meaningful skill certifications to students eager to gain the credentials they’ll need to make it in tomorrow’s complex workforce, without the burdens of additional time and money incurred through more conventional study.

Thinking Beyond the System

  • Bring critical research and innovation to the market. We won’t just stay our current path of funding promising inventions or worthy technological initiatives without capitalizing on their potential. We can streamline our current commercialization grant funding process. Under a new independent statewide management system, approved grant projects will receive appropriate financial oversight, much needed project support, and next-phase resources with a particular focus on critical medical, environmental and community initiatives that otherwise won’t ever find success in a risk-averse private sector investment pool. The result: successful projects that will save lives and improve others, funded in such a way that taxpayers will also see a return on our commitment to the otherwise underfunded research at the core of such achievements.
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