Colorado State Government Spotlight: Department of Higher Education

by Julie Pelegrin

Fifth in a series focusing on the organization of state government. Click here for DORA – Part 1, Secretary of State – Part 2, Education – Part 3, and Revenue – Part 4.

In accordance with their mission, the Colorado Department of Higher Education (Department) and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, known as CCHE, work with  more than 450 Colorado public and private institutions of higher education in the state to provide access to high-quality, affordable education for all Colorado residents that is student-centered, quality-driven, and performance-based. To fully accomplish this mission, the Department not only works with the higher education institutions (enrolling more than 430,000 students), but also works with middle and high schools, students and their families, and, unexpectedly, the state historical society.

The Department and CCHE are best known for working with the public institutions of higher education in Colorado. Specifically, CCHE develops long-range plans and implements policies for the state system of higher education. This system includes 28 public institutions, 13 four-year institutions and 15 two-year institutions, that enroll approximately 258,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and three public area technical schools that enroll approximately 1,500 students. There are also two local district junior colleges that CCHE includes in the master planning for public higher education in Colorado.

CCHE’s specific duties, implemented by the Department, include:

  • Reviewing and approving degree programs;
  • Recommending statewide funding levels for higher education to the joint budget committee and distributing that funding in accordance with statute;
  • Approving institutional capital construction requests and recommending capital construction priorities to the General Assembly;
  • Developing policies for institutional and facility master plans;
  • Administering statewide student financial assistance programs through policy development, program evaluation, and allocation of funds;
  • Developing and administering a statewide off-campus, community service, and continuing education program;
  • Establishing institutional roles and missions;
  • Establishing statewide enrollment policies and admission standards; and
  • Conducting special studies as appropriate or directed, regarding statewide education policy, finance, or effective coordination.

CCHE and the Department also regulate the private degree-granting institutions in Colorado. To operate and award degrees in Colorado, a private institution must obtain and maintain authorized status with the Department. There are approximately 103 private degree-granting institutions operating in the state — 52 nonsectarian and 51 seminary — that enroll approximately 138,000 students.

The third type of higher education institution is the private occupational schools, which are the private for-profit or nonprofit schools that teach specific vocations and occupations and usually grant only certificates and two-year degrees. Similar to the other private institutions, a private occupational school must be authorized to operate and award certificates and degrees in Colorado. These schools are regulated by the Private Occupational School Board and Division within the Department. Approximately 335 private occupational schools operate within the state, enrolling about 35,000 students.

Four of the divisions within the Department focus directly on supporting students. College in Colorado and Colorado GEAR UP work directly with middle and high schools and families to help students prepare psychologically, mentally, and academically for postsecondary education. Specifically, College in Colorado helps Coloradans explore career and education pathways, break down barriers to postsecondary attainment, and create individualized plans for postsecondary and workforce success. The division’s services include:

  • The website for students and parents to assist with college and career planning;
  • Webinars and programs for educators and parents to explain the tools available from College in Colorado, including training in developing and maintaining individual career and academic plans; and
  • Motivational speakers and access to resources, programs, best practices and informational materials for schools to share with students and parents.

Colorado GEAR UP is a federally funded grant program that, among other things, increases the availability of college advisors in middle and high schools. The division’s mission is to help low-income and minority students and students who are the first in their families to seek postsecondary education to enter college without the need for remediation and to successfully complete a degree or certificate. To accomplish its mission, the division employs four approaches:

  • Intense advising as early as middle school;
  • Early identification of the need for remediation and the provision of classes;
  • Dual enrollment in high school and in an institution of higher education so that a student graduates from high school with both a diploma and several postsecondary course credits; and
  • The College Level Examination Program, which is designed to give students credit for knowledge earned outside the classroom.

The College Assist division and CollegeInvest both exist to help students and their families pay for college. Although College Assist no longer originates or disburses loans, it helps students and families prevent or remedy loan defaults. CollegeInvest offers families expert information on saving for college, simple financial planning tools, and a variety of tax-advantaged 529 college savings plans. CollegeInvest is overseen by advisory board of directors appointed by Governor, and it operates as an enterprise, financially independent from the state.

Finally, the Department of Higher Education houses the organization that teaches the citizens of Colorado about the state’s history. History Colorado, also known as the Colorado Historical Society, is created in statute as an educational institution of the state and designated as the repository for and caretaker of certain records and other items that have historical, library, or museum interest or value to the state. History Colorado strives to educate the people of Colorado and engage them in the state’s heritage. It operates 12 museums and historical sites throughout the state; provides a wide variety of educational programs; operates the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, which processes and documents statewide archaeological and historic preservation-related projects; oversees and awards grants from the State Historical Fund, amounting to millions of dollars in competitive grants awarded in all 64 counties; and operates the Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center.