Business Priorities for Higher Education Funding

In 2021, the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) received $95M in federal stimulus dollars as a one-time cash infusion to bolster the state’s higher education system.

Shortly thereafter, the state legislature empowered a taskforce of education and industry leaders from across the state to compile findings and release their recommendations on how these dollars should be allocated to best support learners.

Colorado Succeeds served on the taskforce, representing the business community’s perspective. A complete version of the taskforce’s report can be found here. A brief blog synopsis can be found here.

Here is a letter 42 + organizations sent to the Governor and Legislature advocating for the funds to be prioritized in 4 ways. Now that legislation has been introduced, these priorities will continue to be our yardstick in reviewing and commenting on legistional in the coming days and weeks.

Any competitive statewide fund should focus on industry-driven regional, sectoral partnerships with higher education to increase access to high-demand credentials. We need to do more to provide the skills at scale that high-wage Colorado employers seek. The report embraces success measures “that directly align with the primary reason over 90% of students pursue postsecondary education — to earn access to enhanced professional opportunities.” With one-time federal stimulus funds on track to be exhausted by 2026, we support any investments that bring industry and higher education together, such as the development of an upskilling/reskilling revolving fund, and/or a paid credit-bearing internship fund, to be “refilled by employers hiring from the pool of those utilizing the fund through retention-driven payments.” By co-designing programs tailored to their talent needs, employers can help sustain effective programs.

We endorse the report’s call for “stackable credential pathways in high-need, high-demand, high-value fields at large scale,” as more flexible pathways will help Coloradans move seamlessly from school to training programs to fulfilling jobs. Funding efforts should prioritize the development of or the scaling of existing efforts to unbundle degree programs into shorter micro-credentials with industry value that can then be “stacked” into higher level degrees, beginning as early as high school. Stimulus funds should help institutions embed meaningful credit-bearing, work-based experiences in degree and certificate programs.

The report calls for an approach that “boldly and intentionally blurs the artificial divisions between K12 and postsecondary education.” As part of this strategy, we should award more applicable college credits for effective work-based learning opportunities and prioritize identifying a statewide strategy to ensure more high school students have these opportunities, with a focus on underrepresented populations in high-value, high-demand career pathways. As the report notes that just one in four Colorado high school graduates completes a postsecondary credential within six years, we must expand access to post-secondary credit attainment in high school.

The report notes that too often “public workforce, training, and postsecondary funding is not sufficiently focused on the approaches with the strongest evidence of effectiveness for learners, especially on long-term outcomes such as employment and earnings.” We support the report’s recommendation for new statewide success measures, with a focus on career attainment, and support the report’s call for a competitive grant program “to spark innovation and scale proven and promising, sustainable, approaches.” This will expand programs supported by evaluations or outcome data, while also catalyzing promising, regionally tailored new approaches. We further endorse the prioritization of public-facing statewide data systems to help us better understand learner outcomes, and identify where learners are falling through the cracks. Key data should be disaggregated to understand who is and who is not being well-served, and widely accessible, so students can better see the ROI on their pathways, and courses of study.

Supporting Organizations