The leaders of El Paso County’s four higher education institutions face similar issues and work cooperatively to solve them.
UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, USAFA Superintendent Gen. Michelle Johnson, Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler and Pikes Pike Community College President Lance Bolton shared issues and strategies with campus and community leaders April 2 as part of an annual update sponsored by the UCCS Center for the Study of Government and the Individual.
Topics ranged from Tiefenthaler’s education economics lesson to Johnson’s direct discussions of sexual assault prevention. Shockley-Zalabak and Bolton discussed how UCCS and PPCC are helping students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, be successful.
“Do you remember the song in ‘Grease’ where John Travolta’s character sings a song about ‘did she put up a fight?”’Johnson asked. “That was funny, then. But guess what? Getting to second base is she doesn’t want it is sexual assault. The norms have changed.”
Johnson admitted being uncomfortable talking about sexual assault with a group of male and female university and community leaders over lunch. However, she said, talking about the issue is a “must do” if attitudes on college campuses are to change. She outlined USAFA efforts to educate cadets about healthy relationships and appropriate boundaries.
“Imposing character in an anonymous environment such as social media is a huge challenge,” Johnson said. “It’s important to understand where they (cadets) are in their lives and go where they are to have a conversation, even if that’s a rough place to be.”
Shockley-Zalabak outlined the “high standard/high scaffolding” approaches to undergraduate education at UCCS and the importance of helping students see what’s possible.
“I’ve really decided that test scores don’t mean much,” Shockley-Zalabak said. “A 36 ACT score and a 2.7 high school GPA is not a great indicator of success. A lower ACT score with a 3.5 GPA shows effort over time.”
She shared historical UCCS data showing strong low-income, first-generation and minority student graduation rates. She also shared new efforts with students who have not declared majors, have low entrance exam scores or high school GPAs. Those efforts center on intense student advising and a focused curriculum (see University Studies).
Bolton outlined efforts at PPCC to help students take command of their lives and be successful.
“The completion rate of students who take remedial classes is 5 percent nationally. It’s 10 percent at Pikes Peak. But instead of telling you that we’re doing twice as well as the rest of the country, I’m going to tell you we’re not doing enough,” Bolton said.
Bolton outlined a new program for incoming students, the Ice House, that shows early success.
Tiefenthaler’s comments directly addressed questions raised in the mass media about the value of a college education.
She used a variety of statistics to demonstrate that education results in additional income and lower unemployment. Among her factoids was that education has a 15 percent return on investment while the U.S. stock market over the past 50 years has returned eight to 10 percent.
“But we have to remember one of the most important reasons to go to college doesn’t go on a spreadsheet,” Tiefenthaler said. “It’s about learning how to think, discovering a love of learning and finding a passion. I had an alum tell me that ‘Colorado College trained me for nothing and prepared for everything.’ That’s what we’re all about.”
— Photos by Tom Hutton