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In what is believed to be an historic moment, eight southern Colorado college and university leaders pledged cooperation Thursday to improve the long-term future of the region through education.
Speaking at the Colorado Commission on Higher Education meeting on the campus of Colorado State University, Pueblo, the leaders of regional community colleges, state colleges, and universities spoke to commissioners about the need for regional collaboration, citing current examples and pledging to do more in an effort to provide short- and long-term economic boosts.
“It is a fact that income rates in southern Colorado are below those in the northern part of the state,” Pam Shockley-Zalabak, chancellor, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said. “It is also a fact that the percentage of adults with college degrees is less and that the number of young people participating in any kind of post-secondary education is less. We are here in an attempt to change that, improving access to college for all and focusing specifically on traditionally underrepresented populations.”
Shockley-Zalabak was joined before the commissioners by Colorado State University-Pueblo President Joe Garcia, Pueblo Community College President J.D. Garvin, Adams State College President David Svaldi, Otero Junior College President James Rizzuto, Pikes Peak Community College President Tony Kinkel, Trinidad State Junior College President Ruth Ann Woods and Lamar Community College President John Marrin.
Each education leader talked about respective partnerships between respective schools and with home communities in an effort to improve personal well-being as well as collective, community improvement.
“We work together on a regional basis, not on the basis of our respective governing bodies or systems,” Rizzuto said. “We work across those dividing lines to help our communities.”
Kinkel and Woods cited a unique program to train linemen, a high-demand, high-wage field, as an example of cooperation.
“Trinidad had the expertise in this area and we (Pikes Peak Community College) did not,” Kinkel told the commissioners. “Rather than duplicating efforts -- or worrying about service areas – we are working together with the result of 150 people enrolled in a program that Colorado Springs Utilities needs almost immediately.”
Garcia focused his comments on cooperative efforts to recruit Hispanic students noting that while Hispanic students make up 28 percent of the enrollment in K-12 schools, only 12 percent of students enrolled at Colorado higher education institutions are Hispanic.
Garvin talked about the merger of Pueblo Community College and San Juan Basin Technical College which resulted in improved education for students. Svaldi told commissioners about Adams State College efforts to offer four-year degrees at three community colleges and the importance of meeting students “where they are.” Marrin used as his example a cooperative effort between Lamar and UCCS to allow nursing students to earn bachelor’s degrees.
Colorado Commission on Higher Education leaders referred to the presentation as historic, noting that it was the first time leaders of so many institutions had presented a unified front.
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