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Posted: February 01, 2011

Redefining the Colorado paradox

As minority populations rise, higher ed prepares for the students of the future

Nora Caley

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As colleges and universities look to the future, they are seeing more than just budget cuts. They are also adjusting to the evolving variety of students they will serve. That means older students, international students, people who don't speak English at home, and more people who struggle to come up with tuition money.

By 2020 for every age group from zero to 44, the white population is projected to decline, while there is projected growth among people of color, notes Stephen M. Jordan, president of Metropolitan State College of Denver. At the same time, retention rates for nonwhites in higher education have been traditionally lower than for whites.

"The biggest challenge with this new population is not getting them in," he says. "It's putting in place programs that will help them succeed."

He points out that Colorado is a net importer of college-prepared people. The concept, often called the Colorado Paradox, refers to the fact that although Colorado ranks high among states with adults with post-secondary degrees, it ranks low among states with high school students who continue to college degrees. That may change, he says, as institutions respond to the state's changing demographics.

Jordan says that in the five years since he joined Metro, enrollment is up 25 percent, while the percentage of students of color has grown from 24 percent to 29 percent. The enrollment increases are partly due to successful efforts by public schools in the seven-county metro area to increase high school graduation rates among students of color.

"We are very clear about who it is we serve," he says. "Ninety-seven percent of our students are from the state of Colorado."

Many are transfer students from community colleges, so Metro maintains close relationships with institutions that offer associate's degrees. To try to increase retention rates, Metro is piloting a program for 600 of the 3,500 freshman students. Students receive support services, junior and senior mentors and, when the Student Success Building is completed, classrooms dedicated to freshman classes. In the first year of the pilot, 81 percent of those 600 freshman students remained at Metro. The national average, Jordan says, is 75 percent, and Metro's freshman average was 68 percent last year. Bruce Benson, president of the University of Colorado system, says the statistic he likes to use in presentations is that the minority will become the majority in 2046.

 "We are all aware that people need to get educated," he says. "We need to educate the underserved population, or we will go straight downhill."

Benson says the university is developing a communications plan that includes every high school in Colorado. The goal, he says, is to explain to students and parents that CU is affordable, especially since the school has increased financial aid from $38 million to $111 million. Other initiatives include CU Succeed Silver and Gold, offering high school students the opportunity to get a head start by taking college credit courses before they graduate from high school.

The CU Guarantee offers admission to community college students who have completed 30 transferable semester hours and maintained a grade point average of 2.7 or better. CU Complete helps former students with financial aid so they may return and finish their degrees. CU, where the mix of students is 55 percent Colorado residents and 45 percent nonresidents, is also working to increase the number of international students, who pay nonresident tuition and fees that will total about $29,000 to $31,000 for the 2011-2012 school year, compared to about $8,000 to $12,000 for state residents.

Benson says the added revenue could total about $80 million for the university, after expenses such as English as a Second Language classes. He predicts the students will come from England, where recent tuition increases led to riots, as well as Saudi Arabia, China and South America. Other schools are looking worldwide for higher-paying students. Colorado State University, where 80 percent of students are from Colorado, is building relationships with institutions in China.

"It certainly helps the bottom line when we have a few nonresident students," says Rick Miranda, CSU's provost and executive vice president. "Certainly the trend is to be more global no matter what sector you are playing in."

CSU undergraduate residents pay about $7,000 in tuition and fees, while nonresidents pay about $23,000. Miranda says CSU does some targeted recruiting in California, Texas, Chicago and Minnesota. "We are spurred on to be energetic about our recruiting when our revenue streams are in jeopardy," he says.

Miranda says the number of Colorado high school graduates is expected to remain flat over the next few years. According to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the number of high school graduates from public and private high schools in Colorado has stayed steady at just over 50,000 for the past two years. That figure is projected to drop to just over 49,000 for the 2011-2012 and 2012-13 school years, then increase slightly.

Tobias J. Guzmán, assistant vice president, enrollment management and student access for the University of Northern Colorado, says colleges and universities are adapting just like other businesses. "If we continue to put out the same product or teach the same way or have the same services, we will fail. We will be like Woolworth or Montgomery Ward." He says the students of the future will be driven more than ever by convenience.

They will want to earn a postsecondary degree on a schedule that does not interfere with their work week or social life. That's why many schools, UNC included, are boosting online course offerings. UNC currently has approximately 1,800 students taking courses online, and projects that number to increase to 5,000 by 2015. UNC also offers flexibility in creating new majors without spending money to build new departments. For example, someone who is interested in forensic biological sciences can create that major with courses already available.

"That helps us to attract more students who may be interested in those areas we don't have, but creating them with existing resources," he says. Also, the university tries to communicate with Hispanic and Latino high school students and their parents in settings other than traditional high school fairs. Admissions counselors set up meetings in churches, boys and girls clubs, and elementary schools. Some students and parents don't want to visit the UNC campus on preview day, but will come on a weekend.

"They want to come as a family, and in this economic climate it's difficult to take a day off work," Guzmán says.

Private schools are also paying attention to demographic changes. Vic Davolt, director of admissions for Regis College, one of three colleges of Regis University, says the private college tries to communicate with parents who did not attend college. "What's important for us is to do earlier intervention," he says. That includes talking to parents of elementary and junior high school students.

"We can create the expectation in our state that post secondary is your next step, it's your expectation." Todd Rinehart, assistant vice chancellor and director of admission for the University of Denver, says DU has been seeing increases in first-generation students. "They don't have the same support that we have seen," he says. "English may not be their first language in the home, and they might not test as well on SATs or ACTs as students where English is spoken. We have to be able to adapt the curriculum differently than we have in the past."

DU's long-term plans include attracting more international students, such as from the Middle East, Latin America and China. DU's student population is currently 40 percent Colorado residents and 60 percent out of state. For the fall 2010 class, 8 percent were international. Like other schools, DU targets these potential students through the usual methods, such as print materials and direct marketing for the parents, and Facebook, YouTube and text messages for students. DU also increased financial aid by 50 percent over the last few years. Jordan, from Metro, says it's not just education experts who are trying figure out the students of the future.

"What business leaders need to understand is how important this is to them," he says. "In our view this is about what kind of state we're going to have, and what does this portend for us in the future."
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Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics. She can be reached at noracaley@comcast.net.

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Readers Respond

Very interesting article, with great implications for our universities. Now can we just make some adjustments in our federal laws so these folks don't have to leave the country after we educate them? By Audrey Brodt on 2011 02 04

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