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Report: Post-high school certificates, degrees offer good ROI

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Eric Galatas

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(Colorado News Connection) Coloradans who graduate from college or trade schools are ready to join the labor market equipped with high-demand, highly competitive skills needed to thrive in their chosen career path - according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education's latest Return on Investment Report

Angie Paccione, Ph.D - the department's executive director - said there are significant benefits to getting any education or training beyond high school.

"When you attain higher education, you get higher earnings, better health outcomes," said Paccione. "You get less unemployment. Typically, debt goes down."

Nine out of ten employers in the state say they have jobs to fill but can't find skilled workers. 

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Colorado ranks second nationally with more than 60% of its residents with some postsecondary education, including large numbers of people who move to the state with a degree in hand. 

But just 25% of Black adults have a degree or credential, according to Justice for Black Coloradans.

Paccione pointed to the success of the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, which has shown that it's possible to bridge that attainment gap. 

But she said more funding is needed to scale up and reach more students.

"It was designed for low-income students, first-generation students and students of color to get both the scholarships and the wrap-around support services," said Paccione. "These students will change the trajectories of their families, and of themselves, of course."

Each new postsecondary graduate in Colorado contributes more than $132,000 to the state's GDP. 

Colorado workers without a degree or credential earn on average less than $1,000 per week, compared with $1,500 per week for those with bachelor's degrees, and more than $2,000 per week for those with advanced degrees. 

Paccione said the state has taken steps to remove cost as a barrier.

"We have about 12 occupations that students in Colorado can pursue at zero cost for tuition and fees," said Paccione. "The construction trades, firefighting, elementary and early-childhood education, forest management, certified nursing assistants."

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.