Making college affordable means more employment

Andy Kerr, Guest column

When Jesse Doerffel was 16, she got her first job busing tables at Macaroni Grill. During one of her shifts, a newspaper ad advertising a busing competition caught her eye. She signed up and worked hard — and a couple years later, she received a scholarship to Colorado State University. After graduation, she lived and worked across the country from Maui to San Francisco before returning to Colorado with her husband, Derrick, to open their own restaurant. Today, Jesse and Derrick are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Common-Link restaurant in Fort Collins.

It’s stories like these that drive the work I do at the Capitol. Our state needs more Jesses in business and government, in schools and nonprofits — but not everyone can count on stumbling across an opportunity like this. How do we make sure Coloradans of all backgrounds have access to the same opportunities that Jesse had?

It starts with making college affordable. Republicans, Democrat, and independents alike agree that educating our fellow Coloradans is the most important investment we can make in our state’s future. Earlier this week, the Senate Education Committee considered the College Affordability Act, which Sen. Cheri Jahn and I introduced. In this bill, we target the number one barrier that keeps students from getting a college degree: cost. The College Affordability Act caps undergraduate tuition increases at 6 percent for the next two years. Even more, it gives an additional $100 million to Colorado colleges — and it’s fully paid for, so we’re not cutting K-12 education or Medicaid to make up for it.

Inside the Capitol, I’m focused on making our education system stronger as chair of the Senate Education Committee. But outside the Capitol, I’m a teacher. My wife, Tammy, is also a teacher. My three children are in grades preschool, 3, and 5 — and we have already started talking to them about attending college when they’re older. Every Coloradan should have the same opportunity, not just because it’s the right thing to do — but because training an educated workforce makes our state stronger. Our businesses and our economy depend on it.

But our work doesn’t end with making college more affordable. No matter the price, we can’t justify asking our students to invest their time and effort in a degree if we’re not preparing them for the jobs of tomorrow.

That’s why I was proud to introduce the Hospitality Career Education Grant Program (SB 14-015). This bill would establish a grant program to help students pursue careers in the restaurant and hospitality industries. In Colorado, nearly a quarter of a million workers are employed in these industries. The skills our students learn in these training programs, from communication to leadership, serve employees in any industry. One such program, Colorado ProStart, has already helped train over 13,000 students and contributed over $12 million in scholarships over the past two decades.

Strengthening our economy and our education system are goals that go hand in hand. I’m proud to join with my Senate colleagues to strengthen Colorado’s economic engine by making college more affordable and training our students for the jobs of the future.

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