Colorado businesses and colleges should speed path to jobs for students, report says

Students walk in a courtyard on a college campus with a skyline of skyscrapers in the background.
Colorado’s colleges and universities should work with businesses to get more students the skills they need for jobs, a new report says. (Rebecca Slezak / The Denver Post)

College students need more ways to finish classes quickly and learn skills that employers are seeking — and businesses need to do a better job talking to students about career paths at an early age and partnering with colleges and universities so that education leads to better-paying jobs.

Those are the conclusions of a recently released report from Colorado Succeeds, an advocacy group made up of education and business groups. Industry and higher education need to work together if students are to have access to opportunity and if businesses are to have the skilled workers they need to grow, the report says.

“This report is really about meeting students where they are and not asking them to figure out how to do all the things that the system should be figuring out for them,” said Katie Zaback, Colorado Succeeds vice president of policy.

The report offers five guiding principles to start that conversation, including putting the student first, discussing how to create shorter pathways for students, and integrating workplace skills into the classroom.

Zaback said that by making classes less time consuming, students can begin to earn money sooner. Some students must work and can’t wait years to finish school to get a job, she said.

That’s become even more of an issue in recent years as more high school graduates and adults have prioritized entry-level work over schooling. The report notes that community college enrollment has dropped as starting wages have risen, students have shunned debt, and young people have taken on family responsibilities.  

That means fewer students are on a path toward long-term economic mobility, the report says.

Colorado community college leaders have said they want to offer more classes in the evening and figure out how to condense learning into weeks instead of semesters.

In the meantime, and without colleges producing enough qualified workers, businesses are suffering from a worker shortage. More employers say they’d like to expand their operations. 

Tom Brinegar, a Colorado Succeeds board member, said his Denver technology company PEAK Resources Inc. consistently cannot find qualified workers and must train many new hires in basic skills. Those workers then need further training down the line to keep up with shifting technology. 

That’s costly, Brinegar said. He thinks schools have more and better resources than companies do to help students learn. Schools teach students to become learners throughout their careers and to believe that they can acquire new skills, he said. 

Brinegar said students also should learn their options early and know what jobs are available. He thinks businesses should help colleges and universities understand what they require of workers.

He hopes the report will bring business leaders to the table to help better prepare students for the job market.

“If we don’t do that, there’s some really dire consequences and we’re already seeing it,” he said. “We’re already seeing kids that are just getting left behind.”

Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

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