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Posted: August 01, 2010

Cote’s Colorado: Metro State sees growth ahead

Mike Cote

Stephen Jordan has much to celebrate as he marks five years as president of Metropolitan State College of Denver:

• The hiring of 180 new tenure-tracked faculty, bringing the total to more than 430.
• The opening of the Center for Visual Art in the Santa Fe Arts District.
• The upcoming debut this fall of graduate 
degree programs.
• The $52 million Student Success Building set to break ground by year's end that will mark the school's first self-owned building on campus.
• More than 65,000 alumni - with nearly 80 percent of them remaining in Colorado after graduation.

Yet you sense he's most excited about Metro's potential for the future as the nation's baby boomers retire and employers struggle to secure talent from a smaller generation of workers.

Metro, which serves nearly 23,000 students and educates more undergraduate Coloradans than any college or university in the state, will be best positioned to help fill the gap, he says.

Colorado ranks among the nation's best in college-educated residents per capita, but it has a poor track record of graduating its own natives, relying instead on those 300-plus days of sunshine along the Front Range to attract a steady stream of career-driven professionals and entrepreneurs.

"For Colorado, this question about educating our own students is going to be a much more important issue for us because we're not going to be able to rely on that net importation any longer," Jordan said during an interview at his Auraria campus office.

Jordan cites demographic studies that project the white population declining from the birth-to-age-44 bracket over the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the minority populations, especially Latino, are expected to grow. That means the college expends considerable effort working to improve the success rate of its minority students, which it has considerable experience serving.

"We set out a conscious strategy as we were hiring new faculty to begin to address our retention and graduation issue given the nature of the students that we have," Jordan said. "As we've been hiring new faculty, we've been pushing down into lower division courses, particularly those critical courses around English composition and math."

And the college is already beginning to record improvements from those changes.

"In the five years I've been here, we've seen our first-time freshman retention rate go from 58 percent to 62 percent to 64 percent to 68 percent. And we've set a goal that by end of the next five years to have it at 75 percent, which is the national average."

Metro admits more than 7,000 students every year, but only about 35 percent of them are first-time freshmen; most arrive after spending a couple of years attending community colleges. In that, Metro offers a more economical path than the state's research universities in an era of shrinking state funding support for higher education.

"That's a very important part of what we do - partnering with community colleges to create a way that is more affordable for students," he said.

That arrangement plays well for students, who can choose from such popular professional programs as aviation, hospitality, teacher education and accounting (which soon will include a master's program). But the urban campus setting, in which students are commuting to campus while juggling jobs, makes it difficult for Metro to foster the sense of unity that helps fundraising efforts.

"You don't have the same institutional loyalty that you have at a traditional residential campus, which then translates into giving," Jordan said. "We've worked very hard at improving our messaging back to our alumni."

He hopes Metro's branding tagline will help pump up the power of that message: "Where success begins with you."

"We can say to the students it begins with you and your commitment. We can say to the faculty, it begins with you and what you do in the classroom. We can say to the staff, it begins with you because we know when a student comes up for services and you either deliver or don't deliver, it has a huge lasting impact about their experience here."
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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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