Gov. Polis discusses evolving higher education landscape post-pandemic at opening CMC Dual Mission summit session in Glenwood Springs
Facing unprecedented challenges driven by the pandemic, Colorado’s higher education institutions embraced innovation, Gov. Jared Polis said in Glenwood Springs on Wednesday during a talk about the future of postsecondary 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, which is being hosted by Colorado Mountain College.
“There’s an enormous opportunity to innovate in education, and in many ways even the term ‘dual-mission’ is too limited,” Polis said. “It’s really multi-mission. It’s about the skills people need to succeed in the workforce, whatever those look like, and how they can acquire them.”
CMC, as an official dual mission institution under state statute, does that by offering a mix of certificate and associate’s degree programs, alongside a range of four-year bachelor’s degrees, plus opportunities for continuing education and the random individual courses that community members can take to broaden their learning, said CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser.
A big part of the special district college’s mission is to meet the needs of the local workforce across the multiple central Rocky Mountain communities that CMC serves, Hauser said.
“We exist over 11 campuses, across a really big swath of Colorado to serve these hard-to-reach locations,” she said. “So, dual mission is not an ‘or’ proposition for us, it is an ‘and.’
“We are not vocational/skills training or liberal arts, we do both under one roof, and we do that 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 applauded Polis for helping to make all-day kindergarten a reality in Colorado.
“That really changed the trajectory for the next generation of students,” he said.
Dual mission colleges are a great way to pave a pathway into postsecondary education, Mitchell said. But he said he’s disheartened that some of the progress in making postsecondary opportunities accessible appears to be backsliding.
“I’m really worried that we are seeing signs that we have lost as a country the incredible gains that we have made over the last 25 years in increasing the enrollment of low-income, first-generation students in higher education, across the spectrum,” he said. “This is a generation problem, and we have to take bold steps to change that.”
Mitchell noted that the ACE was instrumental in creating programs like the GED (General Education Development) test for students who didn’t graduate high school to obtain their equivalency, as well as the GI Bill for returning soldiers to further their educations.
“We’re now at another moment where we need 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.
A big part of the discussion at the summit, which continues Thursday and Friday at CMC-Spring Valley, centers around the somewhat archaic Carnegie Classification System for institutions of higher learning.
Although the descriptive map for colleges and universities has 38 different classifications, there’s not one that truly matches the definition of dual mission schools, Mitchell said. There’s also not a lot of flexibility for schools to move around between the classifications, and still fulfill their missions, he said.
In Colorado, Polis said the state has made some policy changes to allow college institutions to innovate, such as clearing the way for schools like CMC to be able to offer four-year degrees.
“We have been able to create an environment in Colorado where we reduced the friction enough that, if people want to innovate to better meet the needs of their local workforce and their students, the state can partner with them to get there,” Polis said.
That also extends to the expansion of concurrent enrollment and dual credit courses for high school students to get a head start on their postsecondary learning, he said.
“Over 40% of our graduating seniors now have experienced at least one concurrent enrollment course,” Polis said. “We want to make that even more universal.”
A portion of American Rescue Plan Act funds that came to Colorado also went toward expanding educational opportunities. That 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.
More work needs to be done at the federal level, however, she said.
That ranges from restructuring the federal financial aid system to “retire” terms like two-year and four-year schools, and even the semester 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, made its online summer courses free, with no tuition.
“Summer for us is a great time for learners to be enrolled and engaged and continuing their path,” 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 of our region,” Hauser said.
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