No, Not Those College Graduates

With predictions flying around about the need for more college degrees (by 2018 we will need 22 million new workers with college degrees, says a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce), some states are eager to increase the number of college graduates.

Colorado is one of those states. Outgoing Governor Bill Ritter touted the importance of a campaign designed to help Colorado residents earn degrees they started but didn’t finish, saying that, “Increasing college degree attainment among our youth and adults is critical for the future prosperity success of Colorado. Reaching thousands of Coloradans to help them reach their post-secondary goals… will improve their quality of life and the state’s economy.”

Well yes, except that Colorado already has a lot of college graduates. In fact almost 42 percent of state residents have college degrees. The national average is only 37.8 percent. Well that’s not good enough. According to an article by David Svaldi in the Pueblo Chieftain:

By 2018, some two-thirds of jobs in Colorado will require postsecondary education. Although Colorado is among the leaders in the U.S. with a high percentage of college-educated residents, that is because many Coloradans relocated to the state having earned a college degree elsewhere. Fewer and fewer native Coloradans are completing college.

This has become known as “The Colorado Paradox.” Making matters even worse, Colorado has the largest gap in the nation between those who completed a college degree — mostly wealthy and white — and those who have not — mostly poor individuals of color, according to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in its recently published Colorado Master Plan for Higher Education, “The Degree Dividend.” It is the latter population that is projected to grow the most during the next 25 years.

Colorado actually has plenty of college graduates; it’s just that they’re not actually from Colorado. While only about six generations of Colorado residents could even have been educated in the state (the University of Colorado was only founded in 1876) the idea that many educated people in the state come from elsewhere is troublesome.

There’s nothing wrong with bringing qualified people into the state from elsewhere. In fact, there may well be enough college graduates in the state to fill those jobs of 2018; the trouble is the people who aren’t qualified to fill those jobs. A lot of them are Coloradans. It could be very bad politically if in future years the state is divided between educated outsiders and ignorant natives. That’s a recipe for turmoil and bad government.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer