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4 takeaways from our Two Colorados event

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Rural students go to college at a lower rate than the state average. Chalkbeat Colorado held an event on Wednesday looking at solutions to help more rural students and who are of color get to college.

Mark Reis for Chalkbeat

Colorado is a highly educated state. But it doesn’t do well in getting some of its own students to college.

That creates two Colorados, one with far more opportunity than the other. During a  Chalkbeat Colorado event on Wednesday, we heard ideas for building a Colorado where the chance to go to college is available to all. Here are some takeaways from the event, and you can watch in full here.

Why does the disparity matter?

The state benefits when students of color and those from low-income communities have more education — it also matters to lawmakers and business owners.

But Cecilia Orphan, a University of Denver professor, said that giving rural students and those of color an opportunity often not afforded to them, is a “moral and social imperative.”

“It’s on institutions, on policymakers, and on all of us to create the conditions in which they can succeed,” she said, “and their success is important to their families, to their communities, and yes, to the economy.”

What barriers must students overcome?

Luis Borrego, a recent graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, said Hispanic men don’t get to college as often because counselors and teachers don’t push it as an option.

“That made me feel that there are certain aspects in life that seem to be just for the privilege of a few people,” Borrego said.

Malcolm Lovejoy, a Campo High School senior, said it’s difficult to leave a small, tight-knit community to go to a large college campus. Residents may worry about students leaving and not coming back.

“College is kind of looked down upon,” he said. “But as we’re moving into a more modern time, you can’t have isolated groups anymore.”

How can colleges be more supportive?

Colleges need to make parents feel included in their student’s journey, said Nathan Cadena, Denver Scholarship Foundation chief operating officer.

Ensuring that parents understand what their kids are going through on campuses where most students may not look like them helps create a more supportive network at home.

“It’s important to bridge that cultural divide that’s there,” Cadena said.

What resources do colleges need?

Colorado ranks near the bottom in higher education funding. In the last year, Colorado lawmakers allocated just enough for higher education so that schools wouldn’t have to sharply hike tuition to cover operating costs.

Will Simpkins, Metropolitan State University of Denver vice president for student affairs, said many universities and colleges that serve a more diverse population don’t get the same funding as flagships like Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Boulder.

“This state does not fund higher education — period,” he said. “I don’t think my students deserve more resources than students at other institutions in the state. I’d like them to have the same resources as other institutions in the state.”

Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

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