Governor Polis discusses the changing landscape of higher education post-pandemic during the opening session of the MCC Dual Mission Summit in Glenwood Springs

Colorado Governor Jared Polis, center, speaks during the National Dual Mission Summit kick-off session at the Colorado Hotel in Glenwood Springs on Wednesday evening, alongside Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Besnette Hauser, and Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education.
John Stroud/post independent

In the face of unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic, higher education institutions in Colorado have embraced innovation, Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday in Glenwood Springs at a conference on the future of post-secondary education.

Polis appeared at the Hotel Colorado event as part of a panel discussion titled “Higher Education: Disrupted” to kick off the three-day National Dual Mission Summit, hosted by Colorado Mountain College.

“There is a huge opportunity for innovation in education, and in many ways even the term ‘dual mission’ is too limiting,” Polis said. “It’s really multi-mission. It’s about the skills people need to succeed in the labor market, whatever they are, and how they can acquire them.

CMC, as an official dual-purpose institution under state statute, does so by offering a mix of certificate and associate degree programs, as well as a range of four-year bachelor’s degrees. , as well as continuing education opportunities and random one-to-one classes that community members can take. to broaden their learning,” said CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser.

A large part of the special district college’s mission is to meet local labor needs in the multiple central Rocky Mountain communities served by CMC, Hauser said.

“We exist on 11 campuses, across a very large swath of Colorado to service those hard-to-reach places,” she said. “So the dual mission is not an ‘or’ proposition for us, it’s an ‘and’.

“We are not vocational/vocational or liberal arts education, we do both under one roof, and we do it intentionally.”

Polis and Hauser were joined in the discussion by Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE) based in Washington, D.C. Alison Griffin, senior vice president of Whiteboard Advisors, was the moderator.

Mitchell praised Polis for helping to make all-day kindergarten a reality in Colorado.

“It really changed the trajectory for the next generation of students,” he said.

Dual-purpose colleges are a great way to pave the way for post-secondary education, Mitchell said. But he said he was disheartened that some of the progress made in making post-secondary opportunities accessible seemed to be backing up.

“I am really worried that we are seeing signs that we have lost as a country the incredible gains we have made over the past 25 years in increasing the enrollment of low-income first-generation students in the higher education in all fields. ,” he said. “It’s a generational issue, and we need to take bold steps to change that.”

Mitchell noted that ACE has been instrumental in creating programs such as the General Education Development (GED) test for students who did not graduate from high school to earn their equivalency, as well as the GI Bill for returning soldiers to further their education.

“We are now at another point where we have to ask ourselves how can we credit the learning that individuals do and where they do it, and provide them with a range of possibilities and opportunities,” he said. .

Much of the summit discussion, which continues Thursday and Friday at CMC-Spring Valley, revolves around the somewhat archaic Carnegie classification system for higher education institutions.

Although the descriptive map of colleges and universities has 38 different classifications, none quite fit the definition of dual-purpose schools, Mitchell said. Nor is there much flexibility for schools to move between classifications and still fulfill their missions, he said.

In Colorado, Polis said the state has made policy changes to allow academic institutions to innovate, such as clearing the way for schools like CMC to be able to offer four-year degrees.

“We’ve been able to create an environment in Colorado where we’ve reduced friction enough that if people want to innovate to better meet the needs of their local workforce and their students, the state can partner up to them to make it happen,” Polis said. .

This also extends to expanding concurrent enrollment and dual credit courses for high school students to get a head start on their post-secondary learning, he said.

“Over 40% of our senior graduates have now completed at least one concurrent enrollment course,” Polis said. “We want to make this even more universal.”

A portion of the American Rescue Plan Act funds that came to Colorado was also used to expand educational opportunities. This included a nearly $3 million grant for CMC to work with Northwestern Community College in Rangely to provide the technology needed to deliver college courses to rural high schools, Hauser noted.

However, there is still work to be done at the federal level, she said.

This ranges from restructuring the federal financial aid system to “retirement” terms like two- and four-year schools, and even the semester-based system, Hauser said.

“We need to be year-round and not be bound by these fall and spring semesters,” she said, noting that CMC during the summer of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, has made its online summer courses free, with no tuition fees. .

“Summer for us is a great time for learners to sign up and engage and move on,” she said, announcing that CMC is now exploring the possibility of eight-week terms.

“It’s something that could make us more nimble and better able to adapt to the economic ebbs and flows in our region,” Hauser said.

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