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.