Southern Colorado colleges team to boost higher-ed enrollment

By Staff

Fueled by a $750,000 Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education grant from the U.S. Department of Education, a group of southern Colorado colleges and universities including the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will work cooperatively to increase the number of southern Colorado residents who attend college.

The 10 members of the Southern Colorado Education Consortium agreed Oct. 25 to expand efforts to encourage current middle and high school students to continue their education past high school. Consortium members agree that part of the effort must be to eliminate barriers perceived by many students and parents.

The Southern Colorado Higher Education Consortium was formed in June 2009 for the purposes of enhancing educational opportunities for southern Colorado residents, supporting efforts to improve the quality of life in the region, and supporting regional economic development. Besides UCCS, the members of the Southern Colorado Education Consortium are Adams State College, Colorado State University-Pueblo, Fort Lewis College, Lamar Community College, Otero Community College, Pikes Peak Community College, Pueblo Community College, Trinidad State Junior College and Western State College. The FIPSE grant is the first federal grant supporting the consortium and is a recognition of the importance of its efforts.

With the grant dollars, the two-and four-year colleges and universities will develop multiple outreach efforts to more than 300 southern Colorado middle and high schools. The schools will develop models to boost enrollment of adult students as well as an estimated 15,000 current middle and high school students who have the potential to be the first in their family to attend college, are members of an ethnic minority group, or are low-income.

"The key to long-term economic success at both the personal and broader community level is education," said Pam Shockley-Zalabak, UCCS chancellor. "Companies are interested in hiring people who are well-educated and coming to communities with a well-educated population. By improving the education of our citizens, our communities are ensuring their future."

In November, teams from each college will meet to determine the details of the outreach efforts. A partnership with Cisco Technologies Inc. will be used to connect schools and individuals. Cisco's widely advertised Telepresence system is being used to connect students from around the globe in high-definition, real-time television. The consortium will explore using the company's technology to connect rural middle and high schools with a regional college to deliver advanced science and math courses as well as presentations about obtaining financial assistance for college or the value of a college education.

In the 23-county southeastern Colorado region, about 19 percent of adults have college degrees compared to almost 36 percent in metropolitan Denver. Colorado also has a large education achievement gap between its Caucasian and ethnic minority residents. Correspondingly, income levels in southern Colorado are lower than those of northern Colorado.

In what often is called the Colorado paradox, fewer native-born Coloradans earn college degrees than adults statewide. Concern about Colorado's reliance on importing people who often take the state's highest paying jobs was a driving factor in the consortium's decision to pursue grant funds to increase college enrollment.