Higher education reform in the framework of three bills was unveiled by Colorado lawmakers on Tuesday. The measures will boost investments in education and training for residents to address the state’s labor shortages.
Despite a recovery from 2020 lows, private health care and social assistance occupations still face a 13% shortfall from pre-pandemic staffing levels, a concern for dealing with future outbreaks and caring for one of the fastest growing state populations in America.
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A recent study calculated Colorado would have a shortfall of 2,424 physicians by 2030 if trends continued at their current trajectories. An estimated 2,000 workers have left the nursing home industry since April 2020, prompting many nursing and long-term care facilities to turn away new patients.
House Bill 1350 would allocate federal and state funding to create a $90 million grant program focused on regional talent development. Senate Bill 192 and HB 1349 would support student achievement and improvements to the job pipeline in growing industries.
Federal funding is already assisting expansion of career pathway opportunities in health sciences at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. CU Anschutz will receive $1 million in community project funding for job programs for underrepresented minorities, first-generation Coloradans, economically disadvantaged individuals, and developmentally-disabled students in K-12 and undergraduate education.
“Initiating these pathways for underserved student populations is essential for the future of health care in our communities, ensuring that our diversifying city [Aurora] receives care from providers who look like them and understand what they’re going through,” said Regina Richards, vice chancellor of diversity, equity, inclusion, and community engagement at CU Medicine.
Schools in the region are already addressing financial assistance and admissions requirements that have been barriers to access for underserved community members. Colorado Northwestern Community College announced it is easing prerequisite admissions standards for its nursing degree and opening pre-nursing admissions to a broader group of students.
As lawmakers prepare to debate a $36 billion state budget proposal this week, the Department of Education’s portion for 2022-2023 fiscal year would total $7.19 billion. The Department of Higher Education has earmarked $129 million to public higher education and financial aid with plans to limit tuition increases by state institutions who access the funds to 2%.
“I am so pleased to bring forward a long bill that invests in our schools during what has been a very difficult time for student success,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie(D-Delta) on Tuesday, “And also in our colleges and universities, to make sure that those students who may have dropped out or have had a hard time completing or going on to get that postsecondary education will have that opportunity, and that we’re able to maintain low tuition increases.”
The proposal would increase general fund spending by 12.1% with the most significant growth in the Department of Education, the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing ($1.02 billion), and the Department of Higher Education ($5.4 billion).