Thursday, July 16, 2009

College in Colorado: Making Higher Education Available for All - an Interview with Dawn Taylor Owens

Dawn Taylor Owens began her tenure as Executive Director of College In Colorado for the Colorado Department of Higher Education in February of 2006. In this role, she leads a statewide initiative, including outreach, marketing and advertising, partnership cultivation and Website services, to help Colorado students pursue higher education opportunities. Taylor Owens is regularly asked to speak on both political and non-political topics throughout the state, on issues critical to education, as well as critical issues facing the West. A Wyoming native, Taylor Owens was raised in Laramie and currently resides in Denver. She is a graduate of The University of Wyoming with a degree in Broadcasting and Communications. She resides in Denver with her husband Jim, and their two boys, Harlan (5) and Taylor (2).

What is the mission of College in Colorado and how does it work?

College in Colorado was initiated to help Coloradans find a way to access higher education past the high school level without regard to grades, ability to pay, and language barriers. With the many tools and resources it provides, it assists those that wouldn’t normally have easy access to a college degree. The organization helps those who want to have post secondary education to figure out how to plan, apply for, and pay for it, including finding grants, loans or scholarships. They also help find the right college based on your needs and interests, set up coursework plans, and even find jobs.

Why is it important to help more students gain access to higher education?

We talk to students who have never before considered going to college about the importance of getting a college degree in ways that they can understand. We tell them that they will earn $1,000,000 more over their life time than without a degree. They will earn, on average $60,000 per year instead of $20,000 per year without a degree. This is very meaningful and important to them.

There are many students for which college has never been thought of as an option. There are no college graduates in their families. These students will now have not only access to a tool that will help them into college, but encouragement to consider doing so. For these students, it becomes very empowering to show them that a 2-year degree in nursing will get them $50,000 a year and a flexible schedule. It changes everything for them.

You mentioned some amendments that recently passed that make access to a requirement. Tell me about that.

One amendment that passed, the School Finance Act requires all 6th graders to have an account with that every student can use the tool and those students who have no other resources or encouragement will really benefit from it.

The other amendment mandated that all districts provide an ICAP (Individual Career and Academic Plan) to each student, and it is clear that is the only tool that meets all of the requirements in the amendment. The ICAP helps students create coursework plans for secondary and post secondary education based on their interests. It provides a clear path for students to work toward as they proceed toward their career goals. It makes school and career become purposeful and goal oriented rather than happenstance.

How many students has your organization helped?

Over 250,000 students have active accounts. This is out of a possible 414,000 students, so more than half before the mandate was even in place.

What other services does CIC offer?

We have an outreach program that trains the trainers. We educate counselors on how to use the website so that they can show students how to set up an account for themselves. This website has enabled counselors to provide resources for career path and college preparation for students who need them while at the same time being able to devote more time for critical needs, like counseling to kids in trouble. The counselors average over 400 students to 1 counselor so many students who need much more than career and college resources were not able to see an overburdened counselor. This has helped tremendously with that problem.

There is a Team College in Colorado that educates students on the choices they can make for themselves and advocates for the college route. The man who does it, Lance Carl is a former football player who had a difficult upbringing, being orphaned at an early age and the only person of color for miles around. He talks to kids about making choices and uses his story as an example. He was interested in football as a young kid and started dabbling in deviant behavior with other boys. He made the conscious decision to choose football and planned his life accordingly. His brothers chose lives of deviance and have faced lives much different than that of Lance, including incarceration.

How has “education inflation” affected your organization and those you help?

It used to be that a bachelor’s degree was exceptional, now it has become the bare minimum. President Obama has stated the goal that every person in the United States has at least 1 year of education after high school. It is necessary in this global economy to have 21st century skills to be able to compete for jobs.

I noticed that you have some really great tools on your website, including a campus matching program, a comparison of colleges and virtual tours. Another is the Counselor Center. What other tools are there?

Starting in 7th grade, a student can enter in topics of interest and a career finder will show the possible careers associated with those interests and a plan to get there. It provides course work plans and even facilitates applying online for more than 8000 colleges. There are tools for career exploration, earnings calculators, and regional and national outlooks for the jobs. There is what is called a slope calculator that helps to determine in the maximum amount of student loans you should take out based on future income to ensure that your payments aren’t too budensome. There are resources to funding college. Anything you need to plan for college and careers will be found on the website.

To see and use the tools, go to

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