Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has only been in office for about a year. He succeeded Bill Ritter as Colorado’s chief executive. Even though he has only been in office a short time, Hickenlooper has found the time to issue an executive order concerning Colorado Higher Education. On January 11, 2011, he brought into existence the Education Leadership Council. The Council deals with education from Kindergarten through Colorado’s Higher Education system. Ritter, in his four years as governor, issued no executive orders addressing higher education so Hickenlooper is one up over Governor Ritter when it comes to state colleges.
Hickenlooper’s education Executive Order lists eight topics and goals, including reducing dropout rates and increasing graduation rates. Unfortunately, none of the eight topics addresses the most galling shortcoming of the state’s higher education. That is the tremendous debt burden incurred by Colorado college students and the great difficulty the new graduates face in making the jump from student to employee. So difficult that a whopping 85% of college seniors planned to move back home with their parents after graduation last May, according to a poll by Twentysomething Inc., a marketing and research firm based in Philadelphia. This unemployment/debt burden combo is the 800 lb. Gorilla in the room and it shows no sign of going away. Any discussion over solving this particular higher ed problem by the Hickenlooper administration appeared to go nowhere.
In Texas, about six weeks ago, Governor Rick Perry took a swing at that 800 lb. Gorilla and launched Western Governors University-Texas ("WGU-Texas"), a regionally accredited on-line University. The new on-line University is designed from its inception to offer college majors that match up with today’s employment picture. WGU-Texas will give degrees in Teaching, Business, Information Technology and Health Professions such as nursing.
The plans that evolved into this new Texas school were years in the making. In 2009, Perry signed an executive order to come up with higher education cost efficiencies. The panel given the task presented its report to Perry in November, 2010. One of the panel’s ideas was to meet demand with new approaches to delivery of higher education. Perry didn’t stop there. In his 2011 state of the state speech, he challenged the Texas legislature to come up with ways to bring the cost of a college degree cost down to $10,000, including textbooks.
Of course, those in the Ivory Tower disapprove of Perry’s new school. Professor Johan Neem of Western Washington University doesn’t think too much of this online learning. In an article he wrote recently in the Seattle Times, he stated "A college education is about going through a process that leaves students transformed. That why it takes time. Learning is hard – brain research demonstrates that real learning requires students to struggle with difficult material under the consistent guidance of good teachers...College graduates are expected to be capable of making sense of the social, political, economic and scientific challenges facing their country and world."
To see the difference between Hickenlooper’s hands-off Colorado approach and Perry’s Texas approach, you can do a side by side comparison with Colorado’s top state school, the University of Colorado-Boulder ("CU-Boulder"), and WGU-Texas.
The first comparison is in course offerings. CU-Boulder offers a large number of majors while WGU-Texas limits its choices to the four fields listed above. A quick look at the course offerings of CU-Boulder shows that a graduate making the difficult jump to employment is not at the top of their priorities.
For example, at CU-Boulder you can get a four year bachelor’s degree in the following areas of expertise: Anthropology, Art History, Asian Studies, Classics, Dance, Ethnic Studies, Film Studies, French, Humanities, Italian, Music, Music Performance, Prejournalism and Mass Communications, Russian Studies, Sociology, Studio Arts, Theatre, and Women and Gender Studies. These may be nice areas of study but maybe not worth incurring huge student debt over.
The second comparison is in cost. WGU-Texas currently will cost a new student who is dedicated as low as $14,735 to get a B.S. in information technology or business. For a nursing degree, the cost goes up to $21,890. Remember, Perry is challenging his legislature to try and get down to his magic $10,000 figure.
CU-Boulder, on the other hand, charges quite a bit more. A CU business major taking 12 credit hours will have to pay $6,875 for tuition for one semester. When you add in mandatory fees for all undergraduate students the total for tuition is $7,536.96. Over four years (eight semesters) total tuition will be $60,295. If a student decides to be a Dance major instead, the total tuition cost is a little less, $41,935. If the student stays in a dorm for all four years, you can add in an additional $45,112 for room and board. Don’t forget the textbooks.
The third comparison is in employment. What about after graduation? Are there any jobs out there for the young college grad? Lets go to Monster.com and find out. P.S., you can try this yourself.
Monster.com is the web's most popular national (and international) database of employment opportunities. On any given day, Monster has more than a million job posts, and 97% of Fortune 1000 companies are Monster customers. On the Monster.com site, there is a job search engine. We put in each major for WGU-Texas, and the number of U.S. jobs in each case maxed out the search engine. (it stops at 1,000+)
When we put in the CU-Boulder list that we listed above (Anthropology etc.), we found none of the jobs gave more than a handful of openings world-wide. Some majors, such as Asian Studies, Dance, and Russian Studies had only one U.S. job opening listed on Monster.com.
I wouldn’t want to be a CU-Boulder Dance Major with over $40,000 in student debt and with the dismal job prospects shown by the Monster.com search engine. So you be the judge. What makes more sense for a young college kid: The $10,000 Information Technology degree with tons of job offers or the $40,000 Dance Major living in his parent’s basement. There’s little wonder Perry is the Jobs Governor.
Mike Robinson is Sr. Partner at Robinson & Henry P.C., 303-688-0944, a Castle Rock, CO Law Firm.