Who Is In Charge

Community colleges win a round

The state’s community college system has taken the first step toward being able to offer bachelor’s degrees, winning Senate Education Committee approval Thursday of a bill that would allow them to do so in limited cases.

Metro State President Steve Jordan
Metro State President Steve Jordan

The bill advanced despite determined opposition by some of the state’s biggest university systems and questions by an influential committee member.

Senate Bill 13-165 would allow community colleges to offer up to seven bachelor’s degree programs in “technical, career and work force development” fields if approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. CCHE  would have to consider factors including program need, accreditation and uniqueness of a program before granting approval.

Those limitations aren’t enough for some four-year institutions and systems. The University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Western State Colorado University, Colorado Mesa University and Fort Lewis College are formally opposing the bill.

The backstory to this issue, of course, is money. State support of higher education has dropped significantly in recent years, meaning colleges on average get only a quarter of their support from taxpayers. That has made colleges more entrepreneurial, and most have added new programs and services to attract tuition-paying students. Community colleges could draw more students with bachelor’s programs, and four-year schools could lose some potential students.

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Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder, home of CU’s flagship campus, also has questions about the bill, and he offered an amendment that would have significantly weakened it by esentially turning it into a study of the issue. It was defeated on a 2-7 vote. The bill passed a short time later on an 8-1 vote, with only Heath voting no.

Although most of the state’s four-year establishment opposes the bill, one of its strongest supporters is Metro State University President Steve Jordan, who testified Thursday.

He said allowing community colleges to offer limited bachelor’s degrees “serves a very important workforce need.” He added that expanding community college opportunities would help “place-bound” students who can’t move to Front Range campuses to complete degrees. “It’s about expanding opportunity to people in Sterling and Wray and Mancos and Trinidad,” Jordan said.

Nancy McCallin, president of the state community college system, pitched hard for the bill, noting that community colleges are closer to more communities (there are no institutions east of the Interstate 25 corridor and none in northwestern Colorado) and that “we have the infrastructure, we have the expertise in technical areas.”

She noted that in the last decade several four-year institutions have been upgraded to universities or have had graduate programs approved, and “all of those bills have had relatively little pushback.”

Heath kept trying to push his go-slow amendment , telling McCallin that he supported community colleges offering some four-year degrees but that the issue needs more study and review.

“With all due respect, we add programs in the four-year institutions all the time, yet the four-year programs are not required to go through this needs assessment” that Heath was proposing, McCallin replied.

Heath was tense throughout the hearing, repeatedly clenching his jaw as his listened to witnesses and other committee members.

Testifying against the bill were CSU Chancellor Mike Martin and top CU officials Pam Shockley of the Colorado Springs campus and Don Elliman of the Denver campus. They argued that “partnerships” between community colleges and four-year schools are a better way to go.

Elliman warned that low funding and “excess capacity” in the state higher education system make it unwise to expand the mission of community colleges.

It’s not unusual elsewhere for community colleges to offer four-year degrees. According to several witnesses, 21 states allow the practice. And the legislature a couple of years ago allowed Colorado Mountain College to offer a limited number of bachelor’s degrees.

Colorado Mountain College, which serves several counties in the central mountains that don’t have a four-year campus, is supported partly by local taxes and partly by state funds, so it isn’t a fully integrated part of the state system.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.