By Stephanie Daniel | May 6, 2019

Colorado jobs are changing. As early as next year, nearly 75 percent of employers will require some type of advanced degree. Right now, only about 57 percent of adults have a certificate, two-year or four-year college degree.

This discrepancy has prompted the Colorado Department of Higher Education to create a master plan to help residents go to and graduate from a postsecondary institution.

The goal is for 66 percent of adults to have a postsecondary degree by 2025.

“If we can begin to have a movement where people are aware of this and that they realize how important it is to get that certificate or get that credential,” said Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “Because of the earning power that it will give to them and then of course that will boost our economy.”

But is this goal possible?

Listen to Hire Me: Educating Colorado’s Changing Workforce

Colorado ranks near the bottom quarter of states for K-12 per-pupil funding. Over the past decade, state funding for higher education has decreased by almost 10 percent and students pay over $4,000 more to go to public colleges and universities.

The Department of Higher Education is focused on four goals to help increase the state’s postsecondary attainment rate: increase credential completion, erase equity gaps, improve student success and invest in affordability and innovation.

“We really have to be intentional about sharing what’s possible and that there are so many avenues, there’s so many pathways to a successful career,” Paccione said.

This series explores various programs that are filling the funding and support gaps to help the Department of Higher Education achieve its goal.

Hire Me: Educating Colorado’s Changing Workforce was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

More Counselors Help Students Plan For Future, Thanks To State Grant

High school freshman Ecko Gardner-Huff sits in the school library at Sobesky Academy. She’s taking a survey of different career options, checking off the jobs that sound the most interesting.

“Help conduct group therapy sessions? Yes,” Gardner-Huff marks it with her pencil. “Take care of children or daycare? Yes. Teach high school classes? No.”

Gardner-Huff is working with her school counselor Dina Klancir. Klancir is the only full-time counselor at Sobesky Academy in Wheatridge.

The small K-12 school is part of the Jefferson County School District and serves students with social and emotional disabilities including autism and severe anxiety.

When it comes to a life and a career after high school, Klancir said all options are on the table for the students.

“Part of my role is if that’s something that they do see as a possibility, is creating that potential for them and maybe opening a door where they didn’t see a door before.”

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel reports on efforts to increase the number of school counselors around the state.

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Innovative Program Aims To Erase Equity Gaps In Higher Ed, Tech Jobs

Job interviews can be intimidating, especially when you’re a teenager. But Adriana Guzman is prepared for the first question: Tell me a little bit about yourself?

“I’m a junior at Skyline High school,” she replied. “I’m also enrolled (at) Front Range Community College where I have 30 credits, college credits.”

The 17-year-old is trying to land a client management intern job at IBM in Boulder County. Guzman is meeting with an IBM employee, but the interview is a mock one, taking place at the Innovation Center in Longmont.

Guzman is part of Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) at Skyline High School. The program, called Falcon Tech, is a partnership between the St. Vrain Valley School District, Front Range Community College and IBM. Students will finish high school while earning an associate degree in computer information systems.

“What we need to do is integrate the community college experience with the high school experience so you’re getting both at the same time.”

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel reports on a program that puts teens on a pathway to tech jobs.

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University Program Is ‘Fostering Success’ For Students

Spencer Hall was about 13 or 14 when his life changed.

“I was at my brother’s house,” said Hall. “We had the police and social worker knock on my brother’s door and tell me that they were taking me into foster care.”

Hall bounced around a couple different foster homes before joining the army at 18. Seven years and an associate degree later, he transferred to Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

“I always dreamed, dreamed of being a student at a university.”

Soon, the 26-year-old junior hopes to do something that very few students from foster care do: graduate with a four-year degree.

Colorado does not keep data on this but nationally, depending on the state, between three and 10 percent of students from foster care backgrounds will receive a bachelor’s degree.

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel reports on a support group for college students from foster care.

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Apprenticeship Program Benefits Colorado Company And Employees

Williams Jones sticks a magnet to a mix tank pump motor, then bends down and points a strobe light at the machine. He’s collecting data to make sure the machine is working properly.

Jones is a PdM lubrication technician and second-class mechanic at the Owens Corning roofing plant in Denver. His job is to monitor the equipment, do preventative maintenance and fix machine parts.

Jones really likes his job.

“Every single day it’s something new and that’s amazing to me. I get to learn a lot of stuff.”

Jones tried a semester of college after graduating from high school, but it wasn’t for him. Four years ago, he started at Owens Corning in an entry-level position before switching to maintenance.

“All my education has been through this company, honestly,” said Jones. “They’ve provided me with a lot of courses to help develop me, which is why I like it and that’s why I’m still here.”

KUNC’s Stephanie Daniels reports on apprenticeship programs trying fix the skilled worker shortage in manufacturing jobs.

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From Peer Mentoring To Faculty Training, University Aims To Graduate More Students

Jenny Sanchez is a first-generation college student.

“My mom stopped at sixth grade and my dad stopped freshman year of high school and they didn’t continue from there,” she said.

The 19-year-old is a freshman at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), studying biology and pre-med. She wants to be a pediatrician one day.

“So, they’re like, ‘Do what we couldn’t do. And like be a better person.'”

In the fall of 2018, 10,232 undergrad students attended UNC. Of those, 38 percent were first-generation students.

“I would say right now our greatest efforts need to be focused on retention. I’m not satisfied with our graduation and retention rates at this university,” said Andrew Feinstein, president of UNC. “We retain about 70 percent of our students from their freshman to sophomore year and we should be much higher than that.”

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