Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Durango Herald, Nov. 8, on new leaders, data, geography and brand identity must drive enrollment strategy for Fort Lewis College:
Student enrollment at Fort Lewis College dropped 6.6 percent this fall to 3,356 students, a decline of 239 from a year ago, and 709 since 2013. Freshmen enrollment fell by an even larger percentage, presenting an even greater enrollment challenge next year. About 65 percent of FLC freshmen return for their sophomore year.
While demographics and economics are working against all but the most exclusive colleges and research universities in the country - the number of high school graduates across the nation is at a low point and the strong economy means work is mostly available - the numbers are rightly causing FLC leadership to consider whether the college is delivering the type of programs and classes which appeal to students.
The news is not entirely negative, as the fewer freshmen have scored 40 or 50 points higher on SAT scores in math and English than in the spring of 2016. Stronger GPA averages have resulted in a higher-scoring freshmen class. A better prepared student makes first-year academic success more likely, improves performance in subsequent years, and increases retention and graduation rates, a critical tie to FLC’s state funding.
At the same time, there are discussions about the college’s brand, marketing and how it can or should be changed or improved. Most students agree that Durango is an appealing community to attend school. Current students and recent graduates praise the quality of instruction, how much they like Durango, learned and experienced on and off campus. But in its name, some think Fort Lewis is a military, 2-year or community college.
Location is also working against the college for some students who seek a college experience in a population center. While once in-state tuition and seven hours or so from the Front Range and parents was an advantage, students now want to be within two hours of home. At $6,720 a year, FLC’s tuition is among the lowest in the state. Room and board, equally important, are about average. Are FLC’s recruitment and marketing efforts adequately focused on the right demographic in the Four Corners, including among Durango residents who are in a prime position to recommend the college to their friends and family with college-aged kids?
FLC now has a new admissions director. Longtime director Andy Burns left FLC in July to join Durango School District 9-R as chief operating officer. Burns had been a school board member and recent board chair, helping to lead the district to a successful mill levy override vote a year ago. College admissions is absolutely critical to any institution and does not allow the new admissions director to be involved in something so time-consuming.
There is a science to enrollment management, with a combination of data-driven decisions and personal touches. In the last couple of years, the college has engaged a national firm which cast a wide net, producing hundreds of students who showed interest in the college but, for reasons that should be identified, did not follow through with admission. Perhaps that approach should be modified or reconsidered?
A new president, a new VP for Enrollment Management and new VP for Student Affairs, two new deans of arts and sciences and business along with the new admissions director could work with consultants to market the college’s and Durango’s attributes and good education that already takes place. Or, they could discover how to reshape the academic and extracurricular offerings to better appeal to students. The answer is most likely some of both.
In any case, stabilizing and then re-growing enrollment will be the goals.
The Denver Post, Nov. 7, on Gov. Hickenlooper being right to shield taxpayers from cost of PERA:
Gov. John Hickenlooper is facing criticism for asking government retirees and employees to contribute more than taxpayers to help pay off the massive unfunded liability hanging over the state’s pension system. His critics should stand down. Hickenlooper’s plan to pay down the more than $32 billion liability in the next 30 years is a responsible stance that gets out ahead of an ugly political battle sure to erupt when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.
There’s no denying that Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association needs to make changes now to ensure the retirement fund remains strong. PERA will need millions of new dollars every year to shore up the pension, which today is just 58.1 percent funded and is headed in the wrong direction even if the stock market performs as well as expected.
The PERA board recommended that all parties — retirees, current employees and taxpayers — share a portion of the cost of righting the ship. But we, and others, are calling for taxpayer-funded state agencies to be shielded from helping to pay for another round of PERA reforms. The agencies and the taxpayers who fund them are already doing more than their part. Most agencies, for example, are contributing a backbreaking 20.15 percent toward employee benefits.
Hickenlooper’s recommendation understands that reality. Instead of asking state agencies to increase their retirement contributions for each employer by 2 percent, the governor would further reduce retirees’ annual guaranteed cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. PERA’s board supports a plan calling for the COLA to be reduced from 2 percent to 1.5 percent. Hickenlooper’s plan would drop it another quarter percent to 1.25 percent.
Yes, Hickenlooper’s plan would represent a decrease in retirement benefit for retirees, but part of PERA’s problem is that the state has long promised benefits that were too rich to begin with. For example, before lawmakers passed reforms in 2010 meant to deal with the Great Recession, retirees enjoyed a whopping 3.5 percent annual COLA.
Sadly, those 2010 reforms didn’t go far enough, a fact that should underscore efforts to get it right this time around.
Hickenlooper’s plan is not without heart. It still asks taxpayers to help employees meet their obligations for their retirement fund. While Hickenlooper’s plan would require employees to pay an additional 2 percent more every year toward their retirement plan — most now pay 8 percent — his budget also calls for a 3 percent across-the-board raise for most state employees, which will offset the sting of increased retirement contributions.
For some Republicans, like Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Hickenlooper’s plan doesn’t go far enough. Stapleton is calling for PERA to base its reforms on a lower anticipated rate of return. He wants the board to take a more conservative approach, which would cost more money up front but put the funds on more stable footing faster.
While we appreciate the watchdog role the gubernatorial candidate has played in pushing the board to get to this point, we think his approach would be too aggressive. Part of the benefit of creating a multibillion-dollar retirement fund is that it can absorb risk and loss over several decades. If there’s another financial collapse, then more drastic measures can be taken.
Now is the time to implement reforms and we hope that lawmakers can support Hickenlooper’s plan.
Cortez Journal, Nov. 6, on student-led social media blackout telling teens “Don’t post a story, live one”:
What started as an inspired response to tragedy by some Littleton middle and high school students — after two student suicides in just two days at the beginning of the school year — has grown into something remarkable.
On Oct. 1, about 150 students declared a monthlong social media boycott and deleted all social media applications from their phones.
They started living with each other as individuals again, face to face, instead of dealing with each other as streams of digital images, video clips, messages and icons. What’s more, they challenged others to do the same, convinced that their dedication to the apps on their phones borders on addiction, and that social media is playing a part in their fellow students’ depression.
As of Halloween, more than 1,600 students at 240 schools and universities in 26 states (in seven countries on three continents) had joined them.
“We believe that social media plays a negative role in teenagers’ lives and is a factor in depression and suicide,” the Offline October website explains. “Teenagers have lost the art of talking face to face with one another.”
The organizers of the blackout do not naively believe that a 30-day break from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the like will be the end of teen suicide. But they know they are onto something.
Offline October organizer and Heritage High School junior class president Joe Roberts, speaking to The Denver Post, said, “We’re not saying social media causes suicide, because it doesn’t. But it’s definitely a factor.”
Research confirms Roberts’ intuition. Time magazine recently reported that a survey of 1,500 teens and young adults ranked Instagram as “the worst social media network for mental health and well-being.” While respondents praised the photo-based platform “for self-expression and self-identity,” it was linked by its users with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and “FOMO” - the fear of missing out. Research also suggests that using more social media apps can make things worse.
A study published in Computers in Human Behavior in December 2016 describes a national survey of 1,787 young adults asked about their use of 11 popular social media platforms. Those who used the most apps (seven to 11) had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety than those who used the least.
Of course, telling teens that overuse of social media may be bad for them is one thing. Having teens make that connection themselves is quite another, and that is what makes this effort so valuable.
The Offline October website is buoyant with the energy and voices of teens who are rediscovering a world of active, interesting peers, and boasts a “bucket list” of activities to try instead of reaching for the phone.
Did the effort end at month’s end? We hope not. Offline October should become Offline November and then December.
More kids in more states and countries should take the 30-day pledge, and then, a year later, sign on to do it again. Let them discover for themselves what they are missing. Or not missing.
Speaking of Snapchat, Roberts said it best. “I’ve realized I don’t need it in my life.”
Coloradoan, Nov. 3, on Priorities First taking newspaper way out of context:
Over the past week, Fort Collins residents received in the mail various pieces of literature urging them to “Vote no on 2B,” the Fort Collins municipal broadband initiative.
The Coloradoan routinely collects election mailers in order to review their claims and investigate who’s paying for them. While most of the mailers sent out by broadband opposition group Priorities First Fort Collins state the group’s positions in its own words, three lines of orange-highlighted text on one mailer stood out to us:
″‘An additional $17 on utilities customers’ monthly bills for the life of bond repayments is a pill no resident should have to swallow for a misguided decision ...” Coloradoan Editorial Board.”
While that line appeared in our Oct. 22 endorsement on the broadband issue, Priorities First omitted an important piece of context: The Coloradoan Editorial Board endorsed the city’s efforts to move forward in establishing a 1 gigabit fiber-optic broadband network. In fact, all but one board member supported the effort in a vote on the direction of our endorsement.
So, we’d like to say, we were taken way out of context.
The line cited by Priorities First is a reference to the worst-case scenario should the service fail to gain enough users to be self-supporting. But with that number estimated at 28 percent of residential customers currently hooked up to Comcast or Century Link, and Longmont realizing a 51 percent “take rate” for its gigabit internet service only three years in, there’s reason to believe Fort Collins’ service could achieve similar results.
Priorities First, bolstered by donations of $125,000 from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association and $75,000 from Citizens for a Sustainable Economy, a nonprofit associated with the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, has produced a series of TV, internet and mailed ads stating its position. That’s well within the group’s prerogative.
But apparently in this case, Priorities First couldn’t have said it better themselves. We just wish they would have tried.