Higher-ed leaders zero in on local needs

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As the Colorado Springs community looks to strengthen its regional economy, local higher education leaders work to align their institutions with progress to create an effective workforce.

This is among the topics that will be discussed at the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s final Power Lunch of 2013, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Colorado Springs Marriott Hotel.

During the luncheon, representatives from four of the Pikes Peak region’s preeminent institutions of higher learning — UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler, Pikes Peak Community College President Lance Bolton and U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson — will come together to talk about the state of higher education and how it relates to such things as jobs, economic drivers and future workforce issues.

They will also discuss the role the Colorado Springs business community plays in the success of their institutions, as well as the role each entity plays in the success of the community.

According to both Shockley-Zalabak and Tiefenthaler, UCCS and CC face primarily the same challenges as most colleges and universities: access.

“Ensuring that talented and bright students from all backgrounds have access to a CC education is a key priority in our strategic plan,” Tiefenthaler said.

Shockley-Zalabak said that although UCCS sees low default rates on student-loans debt and tries to keep financial aid available for all students, “it’s an ongoing challenge.”

The institutions are also successful in retaining a positive impact on the local economy and trying to keep graduates close to create and sustain a stronger regional workforce.

The latest data for the Colorado Springs market show that UCCS has an economic impact of $310 million and that CC has an economic impact of around $168 million annually.

But Tiefenthaler also shares in the belief that a vibrant community will be built not only by maintaining a regional economy, but also a regional workforce.

“More importantly, the college is helping to build the creative economy by attracting talented people — faculty, staff and students — here.”

Both leaders say that many of their graduates — more than half of UCCS’s 35,000, according to Shockley-Zalabak — stay in the region to begin their professional careers.

And when they reach that point, they should be well prepared.

UCCS might focus more of its education model on practicums, internships and old-fashioned student jobs — 85 percent of students work — but both institutions value quality learning.

“When they graduate, they have work experience, and internship experience, and an undergraduate degree — they are very employable,” Shockley-Zalabak said.

However, Tiefenthaler said that Colorado College, as a liberal arts school, focuses more of its curricula on teaching its students to think and work progressively.

“Students leave CC with those valuable skills that underlie the liberal arts and will serve them throughout their lives: critical thinking, careful reading, the ability to work through ambiguity and the flood of information that is now available at our fingertips, clear writing and persuasive speaking,” Tiefenthaler said. “A CC education teaches students to learn how to learn — and inspires them to go on learning throughout their lives.”

Although these four entities are each unique and have different ways of tackling the issues, one universal truth when working toward the future — one which both UCCS and CC hold dear — is that it must be done cooperatively.

“In today’s economy, jobs are created by great ideas,” Tiefenthaler said.

“Creativity is the new engine of economic growth. The colleges in the city and local business community could work together to create an environment where the most talented people want to come and stay.”

CSBJ Power Lunch

When: Thursday, Dec. 5, 11:30 a.m.

Where: Colorado Springs Marriott, 5580 Tech Center Drive

How much: $27 for CSBJ print subscribers, $37 for nonsubscribers

Register: csbj.com/events