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Center for Urban Education partners on a Colorado project

by Emily Ogle

The Center for Urban Education (CUE), based at the USC Rossier School of Education, and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) are partnering on a project supporting the implementation of Colorado’s higher education reform agenda.

CUE and WICHE will work with three postsecondary institutions in Colorado — the University of Colorado at Denver, the Metropolitan State University of Denver and the Community College of Aurora — as well as with the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the Colorado Community College System to align the state’s higher education policy measures with equity-focused measures.

“A focus on equity in access and in success must accompany the completion agenda that currently dominates the national higher education discourse,” said Estela Mara Bensimon, CUE’s co-director. “Meeting ambitious statewide completion goals will require on-the-ground ownership of equity and excellence as institutional and system-wide goals as a matter of policy and of practice.”

Equity in Excellence is a two-year, $1 million project funded by the Ford Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that builds on work already under way in Colorado. Over the past two years, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and other education and political leaders have created a new strategic plan and legislation aimed at increasing the number of Colorado residents from the ages of 25 to 34 who hold high-quality degrees and certificates.

The project will help the state’s public colleges and universities translate the goals outlined in the plan and legislation into concrete action at the campus level.

Colorado, which is projected to see the share of its minority high school graduates and potential college students increase from 30 percent to 36 percent in the next four years, is considered an ideal state to road-test equity initiatives. For Colorado to meet President Barack Obama’s postsecondary attainment goals, the state will have to boost its college graduation numbers dramatically: from 308,000 in 2010 to at least 445,000 in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

CUE’s students, researchers and facilitators will guide participants from the Colorado institutions through a process of inquiry and decision-making. CUE and WICHE, which partnered on a previous equity-focused project in Nevada, will help Colorado leaders identify goals related to equity gaps in targeted academic milestones, such as retention, success in science, technology, engineering and math courses, and transfer or degree completion.

Working with the Denver institutions, they will conduct a policy audit and analysis, looking at equity-focused policies and practices related to students’ academic progress and success. They will also support faculty, staff and administrators at the trio of institutions as they identify specific goals, benchmarks to measure progress and action plans that outline concrete steps for reaching those targets. In addition, CUE will work to integrate these campus-level action plans and benchmarks into Colorado’s ongoing policy reforms to strengthen the state’s policy strategies, particularly with respect to closing postsecondary attainment gaps.

“Closing the postsecondary education gap has become more critical than ever, as our student population has become more diverse,” said David Longanecker, president of WICHE. “We also need to create a postsecondary environment that allows our older adults who didn’t finish college to return and earn their degrees.”

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