Surely you remember last Thursday, Dec. 5, when the temperature was hovering around zero at noon. Most public schools were closed, the wind was nasty and some military installations were requiring only essential personnel to work.
Yet, amid all that, more than 100 curious local people ventured to the Colorado Springs Marriott for the Business Journal’s latest Power Lunch, focusing on higher education.
Given the weather, we might have considered rescheduling — but we didn’t go there, knowing how difficult it was to coordinate the schedules of UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler and Pikes Peak Community College President Lance Bolton.
Their message was a mixture of positive and realistic assessments. All are doing their best to deal with limited funding, especially at the taxpayer-supported institutions. We heard about AFA research activities, about CC’s program related to start-up business ideas, about UCCS and PPCC working together to help students move from one school to the other, and PPCC expanding its downtown presence (see story starting on page 1).
Also on the agenda was a presentation from BJ Scott, who has been involved for years with Peak Vista Community Health Centers but now also represents our area as a governor-appointed member of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Scott brought a slide show that hit on various issues, but one slide in particular detailed “Colorado’s higher education challenges,” which are definitely considerable:
Workforce needs: We won’t have enough educated Coloradans to fill our state’s jobs in 2020.
Education pipeline: Fewer than 25 percent of Colorado ninth-graders earn a college degree.
Completion gaps: The fastest-growing segments of our population are least likely to earn a degree.
Shifting financial burden: The share of college costs paid by students has doubled in 10 years.
Other slides went into further detail, but one really hit home on that last point, especially amid the ongoing discussion of what more we can do to use our colleges in developing more curricula to help improve our workforce.
The slide was a graph, starting with 2000-01, when the state covered 68 percent of higher-ed costs for 32 percent of students. By 2004-05, those numbers had compressed to 52 percent from the state to 48 percent from students, then to a 50-50 split in 2008-09.
That’s interesting, but what has happened in the past four years is even more shocking. Now the divide has gone in the opposite direction, to 68 percent of the higher-ed costs being covered by students and just 32 percent by the state.
So we need more college graduates to help cultivate Colorado’s workforce, yet we’re unwilling as a state to pay anywhere close to where we were 12 years ago in support of higher education.
That’s an alarming trend. And as Shockley-Zalabak told the audience, we need to be talking about the issues that are coming ahead of time, not waiting until it’s too late.
You hear all that, and you realize Colorado has to do more for higher education if we want to continue nurturing a dynamic state economy. We can’t just count on educated outsiders to move here and take the best new jobs that come along.
If we continue doing that, we’ll wind up with most of our homegrown students going straight to making minimum wage in service industries, with no hope for anything better in life.
Is that what we really want?