The equation is also helped by the changing landscape of postsecondary education. As job preparation has become even more important for students, apprenticeships, short-term programs leading to certificates and other credentials play an increasingly important role as alternatives to the traditional four-year degree. As the Lumina Foundation said in discussing its national attainment goal, we should consider “all high-quality credentials—not just degrees—as valuable, so long as they lead to further education and employment…” For purposes of the master plan, the CCHE includes all certificates issued by our public institutions as credentials.
Compared to other states, the percentage of individuals in Colorado with certificates is relatively low, thus allowing for growth in this area. Going forward, as new credentials and credentialing approaches are explored and adopted, the commission anticipates revisiting its definition. Of note are the approximately 400,000 adults in Colorado who are already in the labor force with some postsecondary education but no credential. Completing a credential will not only help the state’s attainment rate, but, in most cases, will also open up new career opportunities and pathways for these individuals. Colorado’s institutions have engaged in efforts in the past to identify and reach out to such individuals; the CCHE and Department of Higher Education are moving forward on a more coordinated statewide effort.
The CCHE notes that not all credentials are equal. Three-quarters of Colorado’s top jobs (those with projected high openings, above-average growth rates, and which offer a living wage for a family of three) require skills in science, technology, engineering and/or math (STEM). Many of these jobs are concentrated in health care, finance and IT professions. Colorado has a higher demand for STEM-educated workers than the national average; to meet the needs of employers, we must increase credential production in these areas.