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Stats give stark view of higher ed challenges

The good news is that in terms of degrees given for dollars spent, Colorado’s state colleges and universities are very efficient. The bad news is that such a system probably isn’t up to the challenges of the future.

That was part of the message in a presentation given Thursday to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education by Dennis Jones of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a Boulder-based research organization.

“We can’t continue this way in terms of productivity,” said CCHE Chair Jim Polsfut after Jones’ presentation.

Much of the data in the PowerPoint is familiar to Colorado educators and policymakers – the connections between an educated population and economic growth, the weak job Colorado does of educating those born here, college completion gaps and all the other elements of what’s called the Colorado Paradox.

But, the presentation has fresh relevance because it may serve as a baseline for the higher ed strategic planning process due to start later this year.

In fact, the presentation was prepared for use at a Sept. 21 “summit” that was scheduled to kick off an 18-month process of creating a new master plan for higher education.

That summit has been cancelled and David Skaggs, director of the Department of Higher Education and chief public face of the initiative, has resigned. Thursday was his last CCHE meeting. (The circumstances of Skaggs’ departure remain murky, but the conventional wisdom in higher ed circles is that it may have been due to disagreements over the master plan.)

The effort, now styled in DHE documents as a “Strategic Planning Initiative,” will go forward, but it’s still taking shape.

Matt Gianneschi, Gov. Bill Ritter’s top education advisor, told EdNews Thursday that no date has yet been set for a rescheduled kickoff event. Skaggs originally had described the process as an 18-month one, but Gianneschi said the duration also is still to be determined. He said it shouldn’t be “too rushed” but ideally should finish up by the autumn of 2010, early enough to make recommendations to the 2011 legislative session.

Whenever the planning initiative kicks off, participants could do well to review Jones’ findings.

Some highlights follow.

The question Jones started with was, “What must the state’s system of postsecondary education do to help ensure that the Colorado of the future is among the most desirable states in the nation in which to live and work?”

Jones noted that goals such as a globally competitive economy, a high quality of life and uniform availability of those benefits across the state are “strongly correlated with the education attainment levels of a state’s citizens.”

About 36.5 percent of Coloradans aged 25-64 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, but educational attainment and personal income vary widely across the state.

Colorado has a huge gap in educational attainment between whites and Hispanics (see slide 23) – the largest in the nation. In the next 15 years the state’s white population will decline while the Hispanic population will grow, meaning that there’s a danger that most workforce entrants will be less educated than now.

“Colorado has no choice but to figure out how to educate its Latino population,” Jones said.

While attainment of four-year degrees is relatively high, Colorado is in lower half of states for high school graduation rates (slide 29). “We import so much talent,” Jones said.

He summed up by saying, “Colorado has strengths, Colorado has weaknesses, Colorado has opportunities and Colorado really has challenges.”

(On that question of efficiency, the presentation noted that Colorado is the lowest state in the nation for per-student revenues but is second-least expensive for the amount spent per degree or certificate given,)

Thursday’s meeting was a bit of a love-fest for the departing Skaggs, who choked up four times as he thanked commissioners and his staff for their work and Ritter for the opportunity to serve as DHE director.

Polsfut announced that in Skaggs’ honor the commission has started a Congressman David E. Skaggs Scholarship Fund for students in civics, public policy and government at Colorado public colleges. Skaggs is a former member of the U.S House, state legislator and U.S. Marine.

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