The Colorado Goal:

66% Statewide Attainment

The benefits of a high-quality higher education system that is accessible to all Coloradans are well established.For many years, it was enough to describe

For many years, it was enough to describe those benefits in terms of the gains to an individual. Adults with postsecondary degrees and certificates earn higher incomes than those without such credentials. They enjoy a healthier lifestyle, and they have lower unemployment rates.

But we must also recognize the public impact of higher education. Adults with postsecondary education rely on fewer social services and public safety nets. They create jobs that yield tax revenue and contribute toward building a stronger economy and a better society. They are more likely to be engaged in their communities, volunteer and serve on boards.

The reality today is that increasing the number of Coloradans with postsecondary education is crucial to our state’s future economic vitality. The majority of jobs in Colorado already require some sort of postsecondary education; research suggests that by 2020, almost three-fourths of jobs will require some education beyond high school.1 Colorado’s 2016 Talent Pipeline Report found that 97 percent of so-called “top jobs”—in-demand jobs that show high growth and pay above a living wage— demand some level of formal postsecondary education or training.2 In fact, economists estimate that the demand for college-educated adults in Colorado is the fifth highest among all states in the nation. In contrast, the demand for high school-only trained adults in Colorado is the second weakest in the nation.

In spite of these trends, today only 55 percent of the adult population in the state has a degree or certificate and only 49 percent has an associate or higher degree. Almost one-third of Colorado’s adult population lacks education of any type after high school. Moreover, attainment levels are not equal: Only 29 percent of Hispanics, our fastest-growing population, and 39 percent of African Americans have a certificate or degree,3 as compared to 64 percent for the white majority.

The CCHE’s 2012 master-planning process, which included extensive study of and discussions with public institutions and other stakeholders, resulted in the identification of increased postsecondary credential attainment as the state’s top higher education priority, as it is key to a vibrant Colorado economy. The Lumina Foundation’s well-publicized goal of 60 percent attainment for the nation was a starting point. But the commission realized that in order to drive measurable change, Colorado’s skills-based economy and workforce needs would demand a more ambitious goal.

Therefore, it established as the overarching goal to “increase the number [sic] of Coloradans aged 25 to 34 who hold a high-quality postsecondary credential—that is, a certificate or degree—to 66 percent by 2025.”4

In 2017, the CCHE reaffirms an attainment goal of 66 percent for our adult population.

Increasing statewide credential attainment relies on many factors, only some of which are within the control of the public system of higher education. A larger number of births than deaths has led to natural growth of Colorado’s population for many decades and, in turn, affected our education attainment levels. In addition, Colorado has historically been an in-migration state—that is, educated individuals move into Colorado in greater numbers than they leave Colorado. Net migration has been positive since 1991—and we expect this trend to continue. And Colorado is home to hundreds of private higher education institutions—both for-profit and not-forprofit—that contribute to the statewide education attainment level. Private schools currently contribute approximately one quarter of the state’s total annual credential production and we expect them to continue to do so. The commission believes that while formidable, the 66 percent credential attainment goal is achievable. Colorado’s attainment has grown from 53.5 percent to 55 percent since 2012 when the previous master plan was developed.5 Assuming current trends in Colorado’s population, migration and credential production rates by all institutions—public and private—continue, the commission projects Colorado will achieve a statewide attainment rate of 57.5 percent by 2025.

The gap between 57.5 percent and the master plan’s Colorado goal of 66 percent is the challenge to our public system of higher education, our students and families and the state.

Taking into account the continued contributions of natural population changes, in-migration, and private schools, this 8.5 percent gap requires an additional 73,500 credentials from our system of public higher education over the period 2018-2025, or 9,200 credentials annually above current production and trends over this same period of time.

Economists estimate that the demand for college-educated adults in Colorado is the fifth highest among all states in the nation.

  1. Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, State Report. Anthony P. Carnevale, Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University, 2013.
  2. The Colorado Talent Pipeline Report. Colorado Workforce Development Council, issued 2016.
  3. Attainment levels noted in this report are measured using the 25-34 years age bracket.
  4. The CCHE in 2012 chose to specify the age group 25-34 in its credential attainment goal to parallel with the national goal set by President Obama, as well as to recognize that this is the age group currently being served by institutions and to allow for international comparisons. The CCHE in 2017 has amended the attainment goal to cover the adult working population, but will continue to utilize the 25-34 age bracket as our lead measure.
  5. The 2012 master plan reported an attainment rate of 51 percent. Since that time, the methodology used nationwide and in Colorado has changed to encompass more certificates; thus, the attainment in 2012 using today’s methodology would have been 53 percent.