Strategic Goal 1

Increase Credential Completion

As already noted, by 2020, nearly threequarters of jobs in Colorado will require some level of education beyond a high school diploma. As the economy continues its rapid shift to information services and technology, colleges and universities are more critical than ever in preparing individuals for the knowledge economy.

Colorado institutions of higher education have taken this challenge seriously and are considered among the most productive in the nation.1 The public system produced approximately 48,850 credentials in the last academic year. Based on growth over the last 10 years, we project an increase of 4.5 percent per year through 2025. While that is good news, we are not increasing production fast enough to meet our economy’s demand.

Producing an additional 73,500 certificates and degrees by 2025, on top of this already upward-sloping trend line, is no small challenge. It will require Colorado’s institutions to continue to outperform their peers in efficiency and productivity, a laser focus on student success from all levels within the system of higher education and, of tantamount importance, resources.

At the most basic level, increased credentials—that is, output—will require increased input and significant improvement in outcomes. Unlike many states that are facing a decline in high school graduates, the number of high school graduates in Colorado is forecast to increase by 18.5 percent between 2012 and 2025,2 helping with the input side of the equation. The CCHE realizes that it must work with and support our K-12 education partners to ensure that the systems are aligned, that the academic requirements for high school graduation line up with postsecondary expectations of incoming students and that our institutions of higher education are providing enough K-12 teachers.

We are not increasing production fast enough to meet our economy’s demand.

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…”3 For purposes of the master plan, the CCHE includes all certificates issued by our public institutions as credentials.4

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.

Colorado also has a growing shortage of educators. The number of students completing an educator-preparation program at Colorado colleges and universities declined 24 percent between 2010-2016.5 Subsequently, rural districts, in particular, are facing significant challenges in recruiting and retaining educators. This looming crisis will have a severe impact across the P-20 system of education. The commission thus places a high priority on producing more teaching credentials and will continue to collaborate with the Colorado Department of Education and all stakeholders to support a strong educator pipeline into our local schools and districts.

Finally, the CCHE recognizes that not all institutions can or should be expected to increase credential production at the same rate; nonetheless, they all have a role to play in this strategic goal. All institutions must focus on better outcomes for the students they enroll, utilizing increased student support systems and additional approaches to help students succeed (see Strategic Goal 3 of this plan). For some, increasing credentials will mean reaching out to new student populations to increase enrollment and completion numbers. In addition, we recognize that the role and mission of some institutions positions them to better address the need for increased credentials in high-demand areas such as STEM and teacher education.

  1. State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO), SHEF: FY 2016, issued 2017.
  2. Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Knocking at the College Door, 2016.
  3. Lumina Foundation, A Stronger Nation, 2016.
  4. Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees, Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose and Andrew R. Hansen, Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University, 2012.
  5. Colorado Department of Higher Education and Colorado Department of Education, Educator Preparation Report AY 15-16, December 2016.