Colorado’s future starts with educated minorities

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GUESTLance-BoltonLook around at America’s leadership — CEOs, public officials, nonprofit leaders, surgeons and military leaders. They mostly have one thing in common: They are Baby Boomers, and they are preparing to retire in the next decade.

Where will we find leaders, skilled professionals and entrepreneurs to continue growing our economy and prosperity?

Answering this question offers a hopeful insight, especially for Colorado. Our state will produce just more than 52,000 high school graduates this year, but we will increase to 60,000 by 2025.

Colorado joins Utah and Texas as the only states projected for increased high school graduate numbers by 15 percent or more over the next 10 years. Overall analysis of current school enrollment and birth rates predicts the United States will see a decrease in high school graduates during the same period. Projections indicate there will be 200,000 fewer high school graduates in 2025 than in the current year. Some states, such as Michigan, will experience more than 15 percent declines in high school graduates.

Analysts predict the coming decline in high school graduates and subsequent college graduates will result in a deficit of skilled workers to maintain and grow our economy. They fear we are producing a surplus of unskilled workers, while simultaneously producing too few college graduates to meet the demands of our high-tech, knowledge-intensive economy.

Therefore, Colorado’s position of growth is an enviable one.

Understanding our growth and finding ways to fully engage all of our state’s talented youths in education, citizenship and productivity will be a challenge. Demographers predict half of our growth in the coming decade will come from white non-Hispanic students. They will represent 60 percent of the state’s high school graduates. Hispanic graduates will grow by 22 percent during the next 10 years and will become 23 percent of our state’s graduates. Asian high school graduates are predicted to grow a startling 76 percent, but will still be only 5 percent of our total graduates. Black non-Hispanic students will also make up about 5 percent of Colorado’s high school graduates.

The most impactful change we can anticipate will be the growing number of Hispanic high school graduates. Sadly, and alarmingly, only 58 percent of Hispanic students statewide are graduating from high school. We are failing to develop the gifts and abilities of many of our talented Hispanic students. The net economic effect of a high school dropout during their lifetime will on average be negative. They will require more services than other populations, and won’t earn enough to pay sufficient taxes to cover their own costs.

Our Hispanic students have the cognitive skills to be wonderfully successful. Teachers in heavily Hispanic schools in Colorado Springs, such as Monterey Elementary and Carmel Middle School, see daily the talent, ability, and boundless energy of their students. They also see family dynamics and social problems that erode the confidence, drive and determination of their students.

The answers to how to support minority students to improve high school and college completion are not easy. However, they begin with engagement in the schools and neighborhoods where endemic drug problems, gang activity and violence rob talented kids of their opportunities.

“Why bother?” many might say, since at first glance one might think our minority kids are only hurting themselves. But if the motivation to help others and make our world a better place is insufficient, then consider the economic motivations.

We need productive, educated citizens. We need our young people of color to grow up to become the educators, politicians, doctors, military leaders and entrepreneurs they are capable of becoming.

Colorado is on its way to making meaningful progress. The Asset Bill, which allows undocumented students who graduate from Colorado high schools to pay in-state college tuition, passed its first hurdle in the state Senate recently. “See the Change” is an organization bringing physics education to kids who never would have learned its wonders.

They are making a difference. Scholarships, mentors, internships and work opportunities, along with courageous political leaders can all make a difference.

There is great truth in the old adage “it takes a village.” Indeed it does, and our community’s young people need the support of our business and philanthropic communities.

Lance Bolton is the president of Pikes Peak Community College.