Better Building Blocks to Close Colorado’s Skills Gap

 A Brief History of the Colorado Development Incentive Program

To date, 64 percent of Colorado’s in-demand jobs require a credential beyond high school.[1] Currently, less than half of the state’s students complete that level of training in four years.[2] Championed by Colorado Succeeds and bipartisan legislators, the Career Development Success Pilot Program passed as House Bill 16-1289. Four years after it was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper, the pilot is now more commonly known as the Career Development Incentive Program (CDIP).

Over three years, the program has received requests for nearly 16,000 eligible incentives earned by students. Forty-two school districts are now participating. The $7.8 million in funding for school districts and charter schools has encouraged high school students to complete qualified industry credential programs, work-based learning or qualified Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The funding to date has only covered two thirds of all eligible credentials earned. During the initial bill signing in 2016, Governor Hickenlooper commented that there are many industries that serve to benefit from the bill’s model, and the diversity of businesses participating will only continue to grow. hickenlooper1289

This bill is “a fundamental building block for improving outcomes for kids,” said Ryan McWilliams, a local Pueblo businessman, shortly before introducing Governor John Hickenlooper during the 2016 legislation bill signing. “Education is very important to our community and [this bill] puts hard dollars into a system that needs it.”

In its first year, demand for The Career Success pilot far exceeded the supply of available funds. Districts and schools reported 3,000 completed credentials, but only 1,800 received incentive funding from the state. There are already stories of the program’s great success statewide, from Salida to Grand Junction to Longmont.

Then, in his final signing ceremony of the year, Governor John Hickenlooper expanded the Career Success Program for five additional years on June 5, 2018.

“It’s helping people make the right choices when it comes to what to teach,” said Thom Ingram, a former Instructional Technologist at St. Vrain Valley Schools, adding that his job seeking graduates often have an advantage over other applicants due to their certifications.

Funding provided by The Career Development Incentive Program has helped St. Vrain Valley Schools expand their certification programs, including industry certification for their welding program.

“Students across the state are going to graduate with more lines on their resumes, more official certifications, more options, and more choices in life,” Ingram said.

Incentives can cover the costs of credentialing exams and transportation costs to job sites – allowing schools to cover costs for students who are less likely to attend schools with the additional resources to cover such expenses. It quickly became clear that the momentum of the program called for additional funding to support more school districts to participate, particularly those outside the Front Range.

In April of 2019, Governor Jared Polis celebrated his 100th day in office by signing the FY 2019-20 budget. To highlight the bi-partisan support for creating multiple pathways to post-secondary education, the Career Development Incentive Program received $5 million to help meet the demand from students and school districts.

“We believe that it is important to create multiple pathways to success,” said, Kelly Caufield, Vice President of Government Affairs at Colorado Succeeds. “When students see real-world applications to what they’re learning, it makes a tremendous impact. It is key that we continue to fund these opportunities.”

Districts that have taken advantage of CDIP have reported seeing students re-engage in their traditional studies and develop critical soft skills, such as collaborating on teams and communicating better with their peers and mentors. Check back next week when we share more information from students and district leaders about how the funds have helped give students a renewed sense of hope for their future.


[1] 2019 Talent Pipeline Report for Colorado:

[2] 2019 Legislative Report by the Colorado Department of Education:

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Colorado Succeeds