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Leading the Charge in Creating Higher Education Access Pathways

University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) is leading an effort to work with high school students to increase enrollment in colleges and provide better access to education throughout the state of Colorado.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

Although Colorado is regarded as a highly educated state, college attendance rates of native Coloradans, those born and raised in Colorado, are low.  For the past decade, elected officials across the political and education spectrum have termed this the “Colorado Paradox.”  Nowhere is the education paradox more pronounced than in the southern counties in Colorado, where less than ten percent of high school graduates from the region enroll in college.

In June, 2009, led by the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS), higher education leaders from all ten public colleges and universities in  southern Colorado came together to form the Southern Colorado Higher Education Consortium.  Five of the Consortium's institutions are designated Hispanic-serving institutions and one has a special mission to serve Native Americans.  Of the ten (10) institutions participating in the consortium, five are community colleges, three are four-year colleges, and two are comprehensive regional universities.    Member institutions include:  Lamar Community College, Otero Junior College, Pikes Peak Community College, Pueblo Community College, Trinidad State Junior College, Adams State College, Fort Lewis College, Western State College,   Colorado State University- Pueblo and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

The leaders of these ten institutions expressed an intent to work collaboratively to build a college-going culture, create more effective cooperation among institutions, establish an effective policy and advocacy voice, and improve  K-12 partnerships, teacher training, workforce training, and research opportunities.   UCCS, on behalf of the consortium, received a grant from the Department of Education’s FIPSE comprehensive program to improve educational access and completion rates throughout southern Colorado using the collaborative framework supported by the consortium.  The FIPSE funds are now supporting the implementation of a model access program called “Socolo Reach” throughout the region in which all of the ten institutions can participate.

Plans call for students to earn up to 30 college credit hours while still enrolled in high school. This concurrent enrollment will be able to be transferred to any consortium-member college and will be supplemented by outreach programs during the summer months.

Additional support for the collaboration has come from AT&T, CISCO Systems and the Colorado Health Foundation.   AT&T donated funding to support the development of marketing materials.  CISCO donated and installed three Telepresence systems that allow for face-to-face interactions in high-definition and Colorado Health Foundation provided a grant to help nurses transition from associate degrees to bachelor’s, master’s and clinical doctoral degrees and alleviate shortages of health care professionals. UCCS instructors and students at two rural community colleges campuses use CISCO technology to teach courses. The technology also will allow the sharing of other resources including student services.  The use of technology will allow for the expansion of UCCS’s 2+2 distance education program to rural community colleges so that students can complete undergraduate degrees in such high-demand fields as nursing, criminal justice and business without leaving their home communities.  

Through these and other collaborative efforts, we hope to raise the bar in education in Southern Colorado. Particularly as a result of the developing partnerships between the region’s community colleges and the baccalaureate-degree granting institutions, we hope to provide higher education services and higher education access pathways to improve social mobility for all citizens.

Dr. Pamela Schokley-Zalabak is President of the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs.