Panel moves closer to final higher ed plan

Future Colorado economic growth will be stunted if the state’s higher education system isn’t strengthened. And, by the way, higher taxes are needed to do that.

Those are key conclusions emerging from the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee as it moves closer to a final report.

The panel spent three and a half hours Wednesday working over a third draft of its proposed strategic plan. Two previous rough drafts were prepared by Department of Higher Education staff, while the document discussed Wednesday was written by a small group of committee members.

The draft plan is titled “The Degree Dividend” and makes the pitch that a strong higher education system is necessary to ensure Colorado’s future economy and standard of living are healthy.

“We believe our decisions on higher education – how we fund it and what we demand of it – will be key to our future, now more than ever. … Without changing the course our state is now on, we are destined for a future that we don’t want. We need to invest more,” according to the draft’s introduction.

The two key steps that must be taken are more funding and increasing college completion rates, the report says.

The report as currently drafted highlights current problems and sets future goals, but it doesn’t make many detailed, specific recommendations. But the implications of some recommendations, if ever converted to legislation, are perhaps more interesting.

For instance, the committee seems to clearly prefer a strong Colorado Commission on Higher Education and a possible realignment of some colleges’ roles. Such changes likely would be resisted by individual campus leaders and boards.

In another example, committee members seem to favor a funding system that would direct more state aid to students, allowing them to choose where to spend it, and also tying at least some state funding to college performance, such as graduation rates. But the report offers no specific suggestions to implement either idea, given the current financial crunch.

The draft document paints a grim picture of the higher education system’s current situation and future prospects.

It notes that Colorado is last in the nation in state funding for public four-year colleges and that state support has dropped 55 percent in the last decade.

The draft report highlights the fact that Colorado’s fastest growing demographic group, Hispanics, have the lowest levels of higher education completion. (This issue has been discussed repeatedly during the committee’s nine months of discussions and is at the center of concerns about the strength of the state’s future workforce.)

“If we don’t do something about education, we’re going to have serious problems in this state,” said committee member Terry Farina, a Grand Junction lawyer and former CCHE member.

The draft report makes four broad recommendations:

  • Colorado must increase its investment in and ensure the affordability of higher education
  • Colorado must reduce regional, income and ethnic gaps in college admissions, retention and completion
  • Colorado must identify a systemic way to improve the educational pipeline, including student movement from high school to college and among colleges
  • Oversight of the state’s decentralized higher ed system should be restructured to make it easier to achieve state priorities, such as efficient use of funds and a better-educated workforce

Each recommendation contains several suggested “key strategies.”

Most of the discussion and the wordsmithing Wednesday focused on those strategies. Items that sparked the most discussion included:

• Whether the report should include a list of possible tax increases compiled by a subcommittee. The committee concluded it should.

Some members were concerned that detailed listing of financial challenges and taxes would divert attention from the report’s focus on higher ed challenges and future improvements.

Russ George
Russ George

Committee member Russ George said, “When we talk about government today we have this tendency to talk about money. The average citizen isn’t interested in that conversation. Tell your story first and then they’ll realize, ‘Oh, it is all about money.'”

Co-chair Jim Lyons argued, “I don’t know who we’re trying to fool by leaving it [taxes] out.”

Member John Bliss said, “Ultimately that’s going to be the fight” about the future of higher ed.

• Whether the cost of remedial classes for college freshmen should be shifted to K-12 schools. Member Greg Stevinson has been pressing this issue, but the committee decided not to push that hot button.

• How the director of the Department of Higher Education should be appointed. The director currently is nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Some committee members think the post should be filled by the commission, as was once the case. The group settled for a suggestion that the governor appoint the director after consulting with CCHE.

The writing group hopes to have a final version of the plan ready by Oct. 18, and the full committee will discuss that draft at a meeting Oct. 27. The report also will be distributed to officials at individual campuses for comment during mid-October.

In the meantime the committee is holding a series of public hearings on the proposal during October.

The final report will be presented to the CCHE and Gov. Bill Ritter on Nov. 11. The commission is turn is supposed to submit recommendations to the 2011 legislature.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”