ASU joins Colorado Challenge to expand student access to higher education

(10-17-2013)

Adams State University Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Frank Novotny, was on hand in Denver earlier this month as Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the Colorado Challenge, a partnership of top state education leaders dedicated to improving college completion rates for students traditionally underrepresented at campus commencement ceremonies.

"The Colorado Challenge project is a great step toward improving access, the most important aspect of Adams State's role and mission as an institution of inclusive excellence," Novotny said. "Adams State University has a system of services and a close-knit environment in which students can thrive. This supportive atmosphere fosters student involvement, and our small classes allow professors to give students personal attention. First generation and underserved students respond and do well in this atmosphere."

Dr. Frank Novotny, Adams State VP for Academic Affairs, (far right) was on hand in Denver for the recent announcement of the Colorado Challenge, designed to improve college completion rates.

Through the Colorado Challenge, Adams State joins with three other universities and three public and private initiatives to increase college access: Colorado GEAR UP, Daniels Fund, and the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Other participating universities are Metropolitan State University and Colorado State University in Fort Collins and Pueblo.

The project's goal is to determine effective and efficient practices for increasing four-year college-completion rates for students, particularly those who are low-income, minority and/or the first in their families to go to college. Data from the Colorado Department of Higher Education show less than a third of students graduate from Colorado four-year public colleges and universities in four years. Slightly more than half of white students earn four-year degrees in six years, while only 32 percent of minority students earn bachelor's degrees in six years. Success for the Colorado Challenge pilot would mean improving those rates and funneling the lessons learned into an effective and cost-efficient model that can be replicated across the state.

"We wouldn't call it a challenge if it were easy," Hickenlooper said. "We are attempting to create a college completion pilot program that will serve as a model for others. This program will help build the state's highly skilled workforce."

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who oversees Colorado GEAR UP in his capacity as Executive Director of the Department of Higher Education, noted, "All of the partners share a common goal of improving college graduation rates for these students. By combining our expertise and our resources with an innovative spirit, I believe we can be more successful addressing this critical issue than any of us working alone."

Garcia will supervise the pilot, which launches in January 2014 with freshmen and sophomores affiliated with the three pre-collegiate programs on the four campuses. The $5 million pilot will serve two cohorts of students, for a total of 2,500 students, and follow each group through four years of college. The three pre-collegiate programs are pooling their resources, and the college partners are offering in-kind support. There is no direct state funding of this pilot.

"We know our students of color and our low-income students have made gains in access to college," Garcia said. "But they lag significantly in college completion. We must do better by these students, and realize their potential, for the good of Colorado."

While the pilot may vary based on individual campus, a majority of students will receive summer transitional programming between high school and college, one-on-one attention from campus-based advisors, and access to increased academic advising via technology. The college partners have agreed to consider, where possible, strategies such as grouping pilot students in classes, block scheduling for working pilot students and offering "whole programs of study," meaning students receive four-year schedules and classes are available when they need them.

Most students served by Colorado GEAR UP, the Daniels Fund, and the Denver Scholarship Foundation are low income and minority; many are the first in their families to go to college. DHE data shows such students are less likely to return after their first year of college.

Adams State was the first four-year institution in Colorado to be federally designated a Hispanic Serving Institution; its undergraduate student body is 31 percent Hispanic. Adams State's graduation rate for Hispanic students is comparable to that of the student body at large.

By Julie Waechter