Colorado is home to a diverse collection of public and private institutions of higher education. Our state is also home to more college graduates per capita than almost any other.
While each person has their own unique vision of what their American Dream looks like, we have long been united by the fact that a college degree or workforce training through apprenticeships can make all the difference. We tell our kids just as we were told: work hard and graduate from college or learn a trade. If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll make it in this country. Sadly, as we know all too well, the Dream isn’t living up to our reality, and today at least half of Americans believe college is no longer a good investment. For those crushed under the burden of student debt, the rising cost of everything from housing to health care is a drain on productivity, and the prospect of thriving, and even just getting by, in today’s economy, feels further and further away for many. Even worse, a college degree no longer guarantees a job that can pay the bills.
Colorado is home to a diverse collection of public and private institutions of higher education. Our state is also home to more college graduates per capita than almost any other. While we’ve done a good job recruiting highly skilled, well-educated workers to relocate to Colorado, we’ve too often glossed over the bad news: a college degree is now outside the reach of too many students attending a a Colorado high school today. And, when students do graduate, they often lack workplace experience in the field they wish to enter. It’s time to engage in a complete higher education redesign and rebuild our expectations for what a college degree means in today’s economy. The idealized image of leafy college quads and a traditional course of four-year study too often don’t meet the needs of today’s modern students. When they do, the cost is—quite literally—more than the vast majority of families could ever reasonably afford. Our colleges and universities can be gateways of opportunity if we are willing to make a change.
Colorado’s funding commitments to our higher education system is indicative of our state’s role in fostering opportunity and learning in order to strengthen our economy. Colorado will work with institutions of higher education to make sure that we leave no aspect of our system unexamined. We’ll implement proven means to decrease every family’s financial burden, resulting in a direct savings to the average student of thousands of dollars. We can and must do better. Instead of letting the past dictate our future, we will reject the thesis that endlessly skyrocketing student debt is the only way to balance the books when it comes to funding quality education.
We can create a better value-based system through innovative partnerships between Colorado’s diverse campuses across the state, encouragement of our researchers to bring inventions and innovations to market, and modernization of our approach to workplace readiness that greatly improves the status quo that is leaving far too many Coloradans behind.
Bolster Higher Ed’s Most Important Watchdog: Year after year, we’ve seen tuition and student debt skyrocket across Colorado without any real sense that there is a way to reverse course. There is. If we are going to get serious about making higher education affordable, accessible, and relevant to the lives of today’s students and the workforce they will join, we must start with reform at the very top. We will work with the legislature to bolster the authority and resources available to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) so that it can do the job needed to save people money: to serve as the relentless watchdog of our institutions, recommend adequate funding of our institutions, and to insist that our institutions facilitate partnerships that will lower costs and increase access to academic programs currently out of reach to too many of today’s students. As we seek these statutory changes to protect students and strengthen the Commission’s role, I will appoint Commissioners to the CCHE who will work within their existing authority to aggressively challenge our colleges and universities to lower costs and save students money.
Take on ‘Big Textbook’ and Lower Textbook Costs: The cost of textbooks has grown by an astonishing 82 percent in the last decade. On top of housing, tuition, and food, textbooks alone now constitute their own hurdle to students already struggling to cover the other costs of study. This is why I have fought so hard at the federal level to make affordable open-source college textbooks a reality, and it’s why I’m committed to making Colorado the national leader in this area. As technological change continues to transform the 21st century global economy, our institutions will have to become more nimble at adapting to preparing students to be economic contributors in a rapidly changing world. Front Range Community College has been at the forefront of this technological evolution. By removing the financial burden of costly textbooks from the education experience, students are better able to focus on succeeding in the classroom. We can forge the path for others to follow when it comes to helping every student finally say goodbye to overly cumbersome textbooks and overpriced e-books in favor of trusted and peer-reviewed open-source textbooks. Moving forward, universities will be rewarded for embracing a new era of open-source textbooks, through which the average student can save over $1,200 in just a single year, resulting in a potential total undergraduate savings of about $5,000.
Save Student Money & Help Students Graduate Faster With Three-Year Degrees: Who doesn’t like the sound of $15,000 back in his or her pocket? For too many Coloradans, a four-year degree is just one year too many to get the education they need to earn their dream job and support their family. Currently, we have just a handful of three-year pilot programs available across our state. For example, the University of Colorado offers ‘Degree in Three’, a rigorous academic experience that is especially suited for students who completed college credit courses while in high school and are eager to enter the workforce. We’ll expand this concept statewide for students who wish to go through college a little faster. Through customized graduation plans and expansion of three-year curriculum options, participating students will be guaranteed the classes they need, when they need them. Initial studies have found that accelerated study options like this can cut the total cost of attendance by 25 percent when compared to traditional four-year programs, with an added benefit of decreased likelihood that participants will suspend or discontinue study altogether in advance of graduation. For students in a hurry, or under financial stress to finish their education, this is a common sense way to lower costs and meet everyone’s unique needs.
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’ve also listened closely to working students and those who otherwise need to plan their study around busy family responsibilities. We’ll expand opportunities outside the conventional workweek and workplace, connecting students with mentors and opportunities online and around the world. An expansion of opportunities like these are a win-win for all involved, also benefitting mentors with the perspectives, life experiences, and diverse skill sets that come arrive when non-traditional students join the team.
Save Students Money on Student Loans: In today’s lending environment, many college freshmen will take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans all before they’ve ever obtained their first credit card, car loan, or mortgage. It will only be many years later that they’ll actually learn the true and devastating magnitude of the loans they used to finance higher education pursuits.
Economic experts now predict that the next global financial meltdown could be rooted in the disastrous widespread consequences of unsustainable student debt obligations. We all benefit when we provide loan applicants the tools needed to minimize their overall debt obligations and to maximize their knowledge about how specific private loans will or won’t protect them should challenges in life arise while still enrolled in study, or even long afterward. In Colorado, we’re going to make 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.
Give High School Students More Access to Free College Credit: Dual and concurrent enrollment programs are giving high school students across the state a head start on getting their college degree or certificate. In fact, just over 30 percent of Colorado students are in a dual enrollment program of some type. 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. And, new data indicates that student participation in dual and concurrent enrollment programs translates into a decreased need for remedial education as well as increased graduation rates. Additionally, we can work hard to address gaps in credit transfers, and ensure that a credit a student earns in any institution of higher education receives recognition at another. Colorado’s ‘Degree Within Reach’ is an important program that allows students to make sure the credits they’ve earned count towards a degree from any institution they choose. We will bolster this program and ensure its receiving the resources it needs to continue.
Save Community Colleges Money And Lead On Workforce Development: We’ll finally give our community colleges the respect and support they deserve. 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. A time-honored tradition of school district vocational education programs, community college programs, and labor union apprenticeship programs coupled with new programs like CareerWise serve a variety of needs. I’ll work with organizations like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Pipefitters to partner with local community colleges and the CDHE and trade schools to expand workforce education opportunities to more students across the state. These opportunities won’t just be limited to those along the Front Range. Instead, they’ll be expanded to every corner of our state, meeting the needs of our local economies, including those dependent upon skilled labor in the energy and agricultural sectors.
In addition, 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: Instead of dictating to the free market what students should study, it’s time for higher education to listen and evolve to fit the needs of our modern economy. 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.
Bring Innovation & Critical Research to Market: Colorado is home to some of the nation’s top minds in biotech and other advanced industries. Our state’s research universities have led incredible advancements in renewable energy, agriculture, and space exploration. But as a state, we simply haven’t prioritized a uniform deployment of critical cutting-edge research and innovation done at Colorado universities in a meaningful and sustainable way that changes lives around the world. That’s about to change. Moving forward, we won’t just stay our current path of funding promising inventions or worthy technological initiatives without capitalizing on their potential. I believe that 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. I’ll use my office to facilitate building partnerships between our flagship research universities and industry partners to better leverage more resources towards innovation that changes lives.