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Community colleges win a round

The state’s community college system has taken the first step toward being able to offer bachelor’s degrees, winning Senate Education Committee approval Thursday of a bill that would allow them to do so in limited cases.

Metro State President Steve Jordan
Metro State President Steve Jordan

The bill advanced despite determined opposition by some of the state’s biggest university systems and questions by an influential committee member.

Senate Bill 13-165 would allow community colleges to offer up to seven bachelor’s degree programs in “technical, career and work force development” fields if approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. CCHE  would have to consider factors including program need, accreditation and uniqueness of a program before granting approval.

Those limitations aren’t enough for some four-year institutions and systems. The University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Western State Colorado University, Colorado Mesa University and Fort Lewis College are formally opposing the bill.

The backstory to this issue, of course, is money. State support of higher education has dropped significantly in recent years, meaning colleges on average get only a quarter of their support from taxpayers. That has made colleges more entrepreneurial, and most have added new programs and services to attract tuition-paying students. Community colleges could draw more students with bachelor’s programs, and four-year schools could lose some potential students.

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Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder, home of CU’s flagship campus, also has questions about the bill, and he offered an amendment that would have significantly weakened it by esentially turning it into a study of the issue. It was defeated on a 2-7 vote. The bill passed a short time later on an 8-1 vote, with only Heath voting no.

Although most of the state’s four-year establishment opposes the bill, one of its strongest supporters is Metro State University President Steve Jordan, who testified Thursday.

He said allowing community colleges to offer limited bachelor’s degrees “serves a very important workforce need.” He added that expanding community college opportunities would help “place-bound” students who can’t move to Front Range campuses to complete degrees. “It’s about expanding opportunity to people in Sterling and Wray and Mancos and Trinidad,” Jordan said.

Nancy McCallin, president of the state community college system, pitched hard for the bill, noting that community colleges are closer to more communities (there are no institutions east of the Interstate 25 corridor and none in northwestern Colorado) and that “we have the infrastructure, we have the expertise in technical areas.”

She noted that in the last decade several four-year institutions have been upgraded to universities or have had graduate programs approved, and “all of those bills have had relatively little pushback.”

Heath kept trying to push his go-slow amendment , telling McCallin that he supported community colleges offering some four-year degrees but that the issue needs more study and review.

“With all due respect, we add programs in the four-year institutions all the time, yet the four-year programs are not required to go through this needs assessment” that Heath was proposing, McCallin replied.

Heath was tense throughout the hearing, repeatedly clenching his jaw as his listened to witnesses and other committee members.

Testifying against the bill were CSU Chancellor Mike Martin and top CU officials Pam Shockley of the Colorado Springs campus and Don Elliman of the Denver campus. They argued that “partnerships” between community colleges and four-year schools are a better way to go.

Elliman warned that low funding and “excess capacity” in the state higher education system make it unwise to expand the mission of community colleges.

It’s not unusual elsewhere for community colleges to offer four-year degrees. According to several witnesses, 21 states allow the practice. And the legislature a couple of years ago allowed Colorado Mountain College to offer a limited number of bachelor’s degrees.

Colorado Mountain College, which serves several counties in the central mountains that don’t have a four-year campus, is supported partly by local taxes and partly by state funds, so it isn’t a fully integrated part of the state system.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”