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Voices: In public health, higher ed in Colorado makes collective good on investment

David Goff, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, argues that increased higher education funding is an investment with a strong payoff.

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It is no secret that state support for higher education in Colorado is low compared to other states. And while I won’t pretend to solve the state’s financing system in a single commentary, it is worth noting that at the start of the new fiscal year, Colorado universities face an uphill battle based on their standard operational models and restrictions.

And no – this is not an apologetic plea for tax increases. What this is – is context for how our universities are making the smart decisions about investing state resources in health-based education and research.

The health and wellness industry continues to grow in our state, from hospital and health care systems, to new smart phone applications and workplace wellness initiatives. Even the Governor has gone on record to state that his goal is for Colorado to become the healthiest state in the nation. But this all rests on the foundation of skilled health professionals and the scientific understanding of health and disease – key contributions from our state’s public universities.

Five years ago, three of our state’s universities, the University of Colorado Denver, Colorado State University, and the University of Northern Colorado pushed aside institutional barriers to recognize their collective contributions to improving the health of Colorado communities. On July 1, 2008, they started the collaborative Colorado School of Public Health – a new model for higher education in our state.

When we leveraged the statewide contributions and strengths of our universities – health and medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus; veterinary, environmental, and agricultural science at CSU; and community health education at UNC – we realized the tremendous potential that higher education provides for the health of our communities. Collectively, we train the specialized professionals needed to work across the health and wellness industry without using state resources to create redundant, competing operations. With a single accredited school of public health, we are offering outstanding, complementary (not redundant) education programs on our three campuses, and we are fostering new research collaborations across our institutions.

We made three university systems works together, removed redundancies, found efficiencies, and highlighted complementing strengths. Any why? Because our universities believed that working together was a better use of the state’s higher education system, then each trying to do it alone. We are building bridges, not silos!

So five years later, what has the state earned back in return for creating a collaborative school of public health? We are producing a new workforce trained for the health and wellness industry, providing community access to health-relevant research, and partnering with industry to create and protect the health of our citizens. We’ve also shown that new, innovative models to higher education are and should be available options for our state.

So before we come back asking for new ways to finance our universities, we hope to demonstrate that we are making good on Colorado’s existing investment. And that’s something any investor should welcome.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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