Retention matters

The economic fortunes of this community over the next 10 years may be most affected, not by anything occurring in Trump Tower or Washington D.C., but by a bit of news buried inside Thursday’s Sentinel.

The news that significantly more students are returning for a second year at Colorado Mesa University is worth cheering about. Here’s why:

Students who wash out of college not to return are most likely to do so in their first year. Getting them to return for a second year means more retention entanglements such as friends, a tie to the campus community and academic investment. Increased enrollment numbers don’t mean much if the university fails to retain students through graduation.

Companies make decisions about where to locate, expand or relocate based almost entirely on one factor: quality of workforce. Economic developers once believed that companies chased supply chains. Turns out not to be true. There was a time when the prevailing wisdom said companies chase incentive dollars most. Also not true. Same with geography. Irrelevant.

It’s all about workforce, and the under-30 college graduate is the gold standard. Denver has the fastest-growing economy in the country because it has the highest percentage of under-30 college graduates in the country. Companies on the search for a new corporate home have stated expressly that their top decision-making criterion is an educated, “large millennial contingent.”

The brain factory that is CMU is turning out our most valuable asset. At the deepest depths of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate for college graduates never exceeded four percent. For a community that has suffered greatly at the travails of a ruthless boom and bust cycle, an economy premised on intellect is far more stable than one pinned to the price of an extraction commodity.

The robust growth we see along North Avenue and 12th Street will soon poke out onto 7th Street thanks to a new engineering building, which will also house the Math & Science Center. The trustees and administration at CMU have done a magnificent job shepherding not just enrollment growth, but physical growth. Find an excuse to stroll through campus when school is in session. If you haven’t done so in a year or two, you almost won’t believe your eyes.

No wonder CMU students are returning at higher numbers. We don’t know if it’s the physical plant, an inviting culture, more clubs and sports or better financial aid options (or perhaps most likely a combination), but this economy benefits from whatever makes students want to stay, graduate and sink roots into this community.

And Lord knows we need it.


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