Feb 202003
Authors: hristopher J. Ortiz

Something in Colorado’s higher educational system has to change. Looking at the numbers is staggering.

Only 38 percent of high school students continue their education, ranking Colorado 31st in the nation in that category. Yet Colorado’s percentage of college graduate living here is the highest in the nation. That means Colorado employs the most qualified but we are not going to be able to give our children higher paying jobs because the majority of them will enter the workforce with only a high school degree.

If that isn’t enough for reform, look at who isn’t attending school past high school. Colorado has an 18 percent Hispanic population, yet only 9 percent of Hispanics between the ages of 18-24 are enrolled in college. Ten years ago, that number was 14 percent.

The national average of low-income families enrolled in higher education is 24.5 percent. I am not exactly sure what constitutes a low-income family but according to statistics Colorado ranks dead last in the nation with only 13.7 percent of low-income families enrolled in college.

What is the state doing to remedy this problem? On the table is the higher education vouchers idea. Gov. Bill Owens’ Blue Ribbon Panel on Higher Education is backing higher education voucher which was first proposed 18 months ago.

The argument for vouchers is they will empower Colorado high school student who before didn’t see a way to afford college by giving them more buying power when it comes to shopping around for colleges.

In summary, the state would set up a bank account for each high school student, placing $4,000 every year. Each student would be free to use that money at any public higher education institution in the state, including community colleges.

This would completely reverse the way Colorado universities and colleges are funded. Currently the way the system works is the state legislature spends about $800 million a year on higher education institutions. That sum is allocated to the Colorado Commission of Higher Education. Then the money is distributed to the institutions based on the expense of educating each student at each particular institution.

If vouchers are the future, for each student institutions bring in, that student would bring his or her voucher.

Recently some concerns about vouchers have been heard.

Last month, CSU President Albert Yates addressed a letter to the community about what he saw as problems with the CCHE’s proposal.

One of objectives of the voucher system is to enhance access and participation rates for people in Colorado, especially low-income students.

The proposal tries to steer these students to start their higher education career at community colleges then head to traditional institutions by lowering tuition at community colleges by 25 percent. Four-year institutions will see an initial-year 5 percent increase to underwrite the expense of the reduction.

This will make attending community colleges less expensive but at the cost of students at schools like CU and CSU; us.

Is it fair to track low-income students to community colleges? That is a step closer to making one of the requirements of attending schools like CU and CSU that you and your family have to make a certain amount.

Would income amount be next to GPA and ACT scores on CSU’s admission index?

A 2002 report by the American Council on Education tracked the academic success of 35,000 undergraduate students across the country who entered some form of higher education in 1995. The study found four factors were key to academic success: starting at a four-year institution, attending full-time, living on campus and working full-time, no matter what the student’s income level was. This comes from a letter from Yates.

I’m not arguing students at community colleges cannot reach success, in fact I know of one student who is about to graduate from CSU who started out at a community college (the editor of this page).

I’m arguing that steering low-income students to community colleges instead of pushing to premier universities will not solve our state’s higher education problem. Instead of widening the doors of higher education for all students, the current voucher proposal is locking the doors for some students by economically tracking low-income students into community colleges.

Vouchers have a lot of potential to empower students to attend school after college but that potential is restrictive if there are limits.

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