Faster, targeted college education into better jobs, Colorado report says

College students need more opportunities to finish classes quickly and learn skills employers are looking for — and companies need to do their job better by talking to students at an early age about career paths and working with colleges and universities to make education better better paying jobs.

Those are the conclusions of a recent report by Colorado Succeeds, an advocacy group made up of educational and business groups. Industry and higher education must work together if students are to have access to opportunities and companies are to have the skilled workforce they need to thrive, the report says.

“This report is really about meeting students where they are, not asking them to figure out how to do all the things that the system was supposed to figure out for them,” said Katie Zaback, vice president for politics at Colorado Succeeds.

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

Zaback said students can earn money sooner if classes are made less time-consuming. Some students have to work and can’t wait to finish school to get a job, she said.

This has become even more of a problem in recent years as more high school seniors and adults have prioritized careers over schooling. The report finds that community college enrollments have declined as starting wages have risen, students have avoided debt and young people have taken on family responsibilities.

That means fewer students are on the path to long-term economic mobility, the report said.

Colorado Community College leaders have said they are offering more evening classes and want to figure out how to consolidate learning into weeks instead of semesters.

Meanwhile, companies are suffering from labor shortages as universities are not producing enough skilled workers. More and more employers say they want to expand their activities.

Colorado Succeeds board member Tom Brinegar said his Denver-based technology company PEAK Resources Inc. is unable to find qualified workers and is having to train many new employees in basic skills. These workers then need to be trained across the board to keep up with switching technology.

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

Brinegar said students should also learn about their options early on and what jobs are available. He believes companies should help colleges and universities understand what they expect from employees.

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

“If we don’t do that, there will be some really bad consequences and we’re already seeing it,” he said. “We’re already seeing kids just being left behind.”

Jason Gonzalez is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado Legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado is a partner of open campus about university coverage. Contact Jason at [email protected].