CU Denver is redefining the model of tomorrow’s public urban research university to lead to a more equitable and innovative society. Many external trends are accelerating the urgent need for action.
Though much debate of late has questioned the value of a bachelor’s degree, there is ample evidence to show that those who have at least a bachelor’s degree have significantly greater lifetime earnings, greater civic engagement, better health outcomes, and higher levels of happiness. They also contribute more to society: they pay more taxes, are more financially independent, and volunteer and donate more.
Yet, in a higher education system originally designed to serve the privileged few, although access and opportunity have significantly increased since the 1990s, education equity gaps are continuing to widen. Steeply increasing income inequality has made college unattainable for many, even more so in the past year due to the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on low-income students and students of color. Their ability to get a degree will shape the future both for them and for our society.
As the Gates Foundation Postsecondary Value Commission noted in May 2021, “Without explicit attention to racial, socioeconomic, and gender equity, postsecondary education will continue to sustain and exacerbate inequalities, but a more equitable postsecondary education system can build a more just society.”
Changing demographics in the U.S. are leading to a society—and a workforce—that is older and more diverse than ever before. Employers will increasingly seek out diverse talent that enriches the culture and creativity of business and hire people who are equipped to engage with and serve diverse communities. And as people are living longer and switching careers more often, the work of the future will require updating of skills and knowledge education throughout a person’s career, no longer solely at the front end.
At the same time, the pace of new knowledge is quickening, and jobs that require mostly routine tasks are declining. Employers need access to a diverse talent pool with flexible, long-lasting analytical and interpersonal competencies—the “non-routine” skills obtained through a college education.
Today, many college graduates are finding themselves underemployed, with a degree that is not usefully serving their career aims—a trend exacerbated most recently by the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes it more important for universities to work with students and graduates to identify and develop career pathways that meet emerging workforce demands and provide a strong “return on investment,” all in ways that fit in their lives and help them fulfill purpose.
People without a college degree have been the most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other global crises in recent history. By some estimates, as many as 25% more workers may need to switch occupations. The pandemic also brought a drop in college enrollment, particularly among students from low-income backgrounds. Their ability to get degrees and credentials will shape the future both for them and for our post-pandemic economy.
In their quick pivot to remote learning in 2020, universities demonstrated the muscle to innovate. A successful future and post-pandemic recovery will require big ideas, innovative solutions, and an educated, adaptable workforce prepared to serve diverse populations. It will require a university that brings high-quality, relevant education to the people who need it most, when and where they need it.
This strategic plan charts a course for CU Denver to be that university by 2030.