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CO Educators Work to Bring College Enrollment Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Enrollment in Colorado's colleges and universities dropped during the coronavirus pandemic, and educators said the impacts could be felt throughout the state's economy for years to come.

Angie Paccione, executive director for the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said many students decided to hit the pause button on their education, and she fears many may not return to complete their degree.

"Enrollment matters because students who stop out, or drop out, very rarely return to get their diploma," Paccione explained. "That means they will not maximize their earning potential, and it doesn't set them up for success in the future."

When campuses were forced to shut down, Paccione said first-generation students and students of color in particular lost access to the college experience they looked forward to, including critical bonding time with their peers.

Many also lost jobs and had to make difficult decisions, with some turning to less expensive two-year institutions, where you don't have to live on campus, to save money.

Strong enrollment and completion of degrees or certificates is seen as a keystone of Colorado's economic future. Businesses project a majority of new jobs paying a living wage will require some form of post-secondary education.

Paccione stressed as progress is made containing COVID-19, she's optimistic enrollment rates will return to normal.

"At least 75% of all of their new jobs require a credential," Paccione pointed out. "So, if you are not completing the credential, you will not be able to earn the kind of living that will pay your debts, give you some sense of fulfillment and allow you to contribute to your communities."

Paccione pointed to certificate programs that can be completed in just eight months, for computer networking, heating/ventilation/air conditioning technicians, dental and medical assistants, pharmacy techs and others.

The state has expanded its free application days for many colleges and universities, and students not eligible for federal financial aid can now apply for state aid to complete degrees.

Paccione is also looking forward to restarting in-person high school town halls, with simultaneous Spanish translation.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.