Goal for higher ed welcome

But funds needed
 to turn 'aspirational' plan into reality

Tim Foster

A master plan released by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education last week depicts an urgent need to increase education attainment beyond high school for all Colorado residents, and Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster said he hopes the commission’s “aspirational” master plan is backed up with funding.

The commission’s master plan, called “Colorado Rises,” details four strategic goals for higher education in the state, including increasing credential completion, erasing equity gaps, improving student success and investing in affordability and innovation.

The overarching goal is to increase the number of adults in Colorado with a post-secondary education from 55 percent currently to 66 percent by 2025.

“I think it’s great that they want to have an aspirational goal,” Foster said. “Our goal, which aligns and is parallel, is how do we educate more people in this part of the state and continue to elevate education. I think we’re less aspirational and a lot more realistic that this is a challenge and one that’s going to take serious work, and it’s going to take some money on their part.”

Colorado Mesa has increased the number of certificate programs available at Western Colorado Community College in recent years and continues to increase the amount of financial aid that’s available for all programs.

“To us, a one-year (degree) is as important as a two-year as a four-year as a master’s or doctorate, and when you look at their funding formula, that’s not how they view the world,” Foster said. “I vehemently disagree with that. When you look at the difference you make with folks and that people make for themselves, it’s probably the most pronounced at the community college and baccalaureate level.”

The commission’s master plan does state an openness to re-evaluate how commissioners view one- and two-year programs.

“Compared to other states, the percentage of individuals in Colorado with certificates is relatively low, thus allowing for growth in this area. Going forward, as new credentials and credentialing approaches are explored and adopted, the commission anticipates revisiting its definition,” the master plan said. “Of note are the approximately 400,000 adults in Colorado who are already in the labor force with some postsecondary education but no credential. Completing a credential will not only help the state’s attainment rate, but, in most cases, will also open up new career opportunities and pathways for these individuals.”

Colorado Rises also calls for increased funding for higher education as “a public good,” equal to public safety, health care and K-12 education.

“Increasing our investment today will result in far greater gains to our communities and our economy, resulting in a larger pie for all,” the report said.

The report did not include specific details about how to increase higher education funding, and Foster said he doesn’t know if the report signals a willingness on the commission’s part to increase funding.

“It certainly says that they recognize that the world is changing and that a high school diploma is going to limit your future,” Foster said. “I always believed that if you’re going to put it as your goal then you have to fund it, and if you don’t fund it then you’re not serious. So I think it best to question — are you all serious about this?”

To read the full report, visit masterplan.highered.colorado.gov.


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