Knowledge and jobs are critically linked

When the Colorado Legislature opened its 2011 session Wednesday, the economy, jobs and the state budget were on everyone’s minds.

But Senate President Brandon Shaffer, of Boulder, added another wrinkle to the jobs issue, tying jobs to the need to strengthen Colorado’s higher education system.

“There’s no question, there is no argument and there is no doubt: education equals jobs,” Shaffer said in his opening remarks.

He’s absolutely right. Unfortunately, Colorado has developed a reputation in recent years as a state that is systematically defunding its higher education system as it deals with chronic budget shortfalls. There is at least anecdotal evidence that some major businesses have decided against locating facilities here because of that fact.

Shaffer wants to begin to address that by creating the Knowledge-Based Economy Fund through Senate Bill 1, the first piece of legislation to be introduced in the state Senate this year.

The measure won’t add taxes or any new revenue to state coffers. Rather, “It will create an account to set funds aside throughout this session and dedicate them specifically to education funding,” Shaffer said.

It is a small but important step to begin to address the ongoing defunding of our state’s higher education system. Before long, more will be needed.

Shaffer noted the direct economic impact of institutions such as Mesa State College on the communities they serve. He cited figures, now a couple years old, that show Mesa State has an estimated impact of more than $225.3 million on the regional economy.

There is little question about the impact created by jobs at Mesa State, of spending by students who attend school there, of items purchased in the community or of the significant construction effort that has occurred at the college over the past decade.

But there are also intangible impacts — things like the ability to attract new businesses and new residents because of academic offerings at the college; a thriving cultural and artistic community that is partially anchored at the college; sports events, partnerships with local governments and more.

With one of the most highly educated workforces in the country, Colorado shouldn’t be establishing a reputation for turning its back on higher education. We commend Shaffer for highlighting the importance of our colleges and universities and their connections to jobs. His effort, in conjunction with Sen. Bob Bacon of Fort Collins, to push one piece of legislation to begin addressing the funding problems is equally laudable.

But Coloradans must also recognize that if they want to rev the state’s economic engine, we need tomaintain a strong higher education system in this state. So, we will eventually have to look at other funding measures to shore up our colleges and universities.


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