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March 16, 2023
Colorado’s 2022 Talent Pipeline Report said there were two job openings for every available worker last year, an immediate challenge that also brings into question the long-term sustainability of the state economy. The report says most job openings in our advanced workforce require some type of postsecondary education, yet as a state we haven’t prioritized the primary pipeline that powers our workforce: higher education.
Colorado is 49th in the country in higher-education funding per student. We have an urgent need to invest in our education system – our state’s future – which is what my fellow university presidents and I are asking of the legislature this session. We’re grateful that state legislators have worked to increase funding for higher ed in recent years, and we need to continue that trend in order to be nationally competitive.
Sophisticated societies invest in their next generation. That’s not an abstract concept to worry about down the road, but something we must act to rectify now. Florida, one of Colorado’s competitors in the aerospace industry, spends about 50% more per college student than Colorado does and allows many Floridians to go to college for free through a state-sponsored scholarship program. If we don’t produce the highly skilled workers needed to entice companies to set up shop in Colorado and keep them here, we will fall behind.
The talent report said there was a gap of 79,000 job openings compared with hirings last summer, with unemployment at 3.6%. The federal courts may soon exacerbate the labor shortage too, as they have foreshadowed the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that provides work authorization for 8,500 DACA recipients currently in Colorado’s workforce.
As Gov. Jared Polis made clear in the report, “To keep up with the demands of our economy, we have to create more opportunities for Coloradans to continue learning and evolving over the course of their careers.” He went on to say, “We need to be doing more to help connect Coloradans, our homegrown talent, with skills that lead to good-paying jobs and careers.”
I couldn’t agree more. Education is the building block of civil society, and we have a responsibility to make it accessible and affordable. We hear it all the time from government leaders promoting their local economies, employers interested in coming here or trying to scale their operations, and students and their parents who want better lives for future generations without breaking the bank.
The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has been hard at work creating a new strategic plan focused on improving return on investment for students, boosting equity and access, and increasing work-based learning and industry partnerships. If those ideas sound familiar, it’s because those are also hallmarks of an MSU Denver education. We are strongly aligned with the commission’s goals to provide value, equity and opportunity for students and our state, and we’re glad to have them as partners in strengthening higher ed in Colorado.
There is a direct relationship between state investment in higher ed and universities’ ability to keep tuition affordable and thus social mobility accessible. Education is the foundation we must invest in to reach the macro outcomes that make Colorado a better place to live. Social mobility for students, talent pipelines for employers, and a thriving economy that works for everyone are key to our collective prosperity and growth.
Janine Davidson, Ph.D.President