BY FREDA MIKLIN
By 2025, 74 percent of jobs will require a post-secondary credential. Outstanding student loan debt today is $1.5 trillion nationally. In Colorado, 733,000 people owe $30 billion for student loans. Adding to the problem, 40 percent of student loan borrowers do not complete a degree in six years.
Harvard University was founded in 1636 as the first American institution of higher learning, offering a liberal arts education designed to “engage students in the creative process and encourage interaction and debate” in a format that “stimulates critical thinking.” This type of education was viewed as a luxury available only to those of significant means.
Next came large research universities, with more focus on professions, but increasingly high price tags and no assurance that one’s undergraduate biology degree would lead to a job as a scientist or physician. The cost of an undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado is $115,000 for residents and $214,000 for non-residents if they finish in four years.
Community colleges have long served as a reasonably-priced alternative for students who want to pursue post-secondary education, but are not certain of their career path and not prepared to assume significant debt.
Eric Dunker is the dean of business, technology, and workforce partnerships for the Arapahoe Community College (ACC) Sturm Collaborative Campus. He talked about the role of ACC at a recent meeting of the Denver South Economic Development Partnership held at the Lone Tree Arts Center.
ACC has been working with business and industry to develop educational programs to train students for direct entry to the workforce in a relatively short time. The collaborative goal of ACC and its industry partners is to “attract, grow, and retain talent through a pipeline that minimizes student loans and maximizes workforce readiness.” Current academic programs offered through ACC include cyber security, computer software, business/accounting, physical therapy assistant, and certified nursing assistant. The cyber security and business/accounting programs are designed to be completed at Colorado State University for those who want four-year degrees.
ACC has developed work-based learning partnerships with large healthcare providers to train medical assistants and lab technicians who begin working while they are learning. The medical assistant apprenticeship with Centura Health was launched in July 2018 and boasts a 100 percent pass rate and over 90 percent retention after one year.
The ACC Sturm Collaborative Campus, a $40 million facility opening in Castle Rock in fall 2019 will offer tech forward multi-functional classrooms and spaces for industry to co-locate to ensure that training offered there will result in students getting the skills necessary to enter the workforce when their training is completed.