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EDITORIAL: Colorado has model for higher education

By: The Gazette Editorial Board
February 7, 2017 Updated: February 7, 2017 at 12:17 pm
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2010 Boulder Aerial photograph. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Unlike their parents, millennials aren't flocking to colleges in droves. Growing numbers are more interested in jobs that don't require four-year degrees.

So says the premise of a story by CBS News Money Watch, which explained a national downward trend in college and university enrollments. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported in 2015 that colleges had lost more than 1 million enrollments in the past four years.

It is a crisis for much of the higher education establishment. Even worse, The National Center for Education Statistics reports the declining applications and enrollments come after the United States added more than 1,000 four-year colleges and universities since 1980.

Meanwhile, high schools are re-emphasizing practical career tracks for students to fill voids in medium-and-high skill vocations that don't require degrees.

Google "declining applications" or "declining enrollments" and stories pop up about colleges and universities scrambling to cope with the trend.

The University of Colorado isn't among them.

All three campuses of the CU system - Colorado Springs, Boulder and Denver - are exploding with applications.

UC-Colorado Springs has seen strong growth for the past decade, but the bigger story is aggressive new demand at the Boulder flagship.

During a meeting with the Gazette's editorial board Monday, CU-Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano reported 37,000 new applications, compared to 30,000 the year before. That's a whopping 23.3 percent increase in demand in just one year.

The Gazette's editorial board has reported the institution's success in recent years. A solid Board of Regents and strong leadership by DiStefano, CU President Bruce Benson and former President Hank Brown have turned the scandal-ridden campus of the 1990s and early 2000s into a model of state-run education for others to emulate.

A unique element of the sea change involves a modest but effective effort to counter the left-wing bias that characterizes most of higher education.

We chuckled in 2013 when CU announced what could only be described as token-sized affirmative action for conservatives. CU enacted the Conservative Thought and Policy Program to each year host a resident conservative scholar to teach and lecture on Boulder campus and throughout the state.

The Gazette has met three of the four scholars, including current resident Francis Beckwith. Like his predecessors, the Baylor legal scholar and philosophy professor says CU's faculty and students have been open minded, welcoming and more than willing to hear his perspective.

The university has also distinguished itself by striving to permit controversial speakers who challenge conventional wisdom. It has led the country in partnerships with commerce and industry that keep tuition low and reduce the need for public funding.

Most recently, CU-Boulder has enacted a program that locks in a guaranteed four-year price of tuition and fees for incoming freshman. It protects students from unexpected price hikes, while incentivizing them to finish degrees within four years.

Customer service, fair pricing, freedom of speech, academic freedom and efforts to balance curriculum are the pathways to success in higher education. Look no further than the three flourishing campuses of CU.

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