Education, Education, Education

I am often asked “what the state government in Colorado should do to help promote entrepreneurship and innovation.”  My answer is consistent – “education, education, education.”  I went to school at MIT and saw first hand how one of the best “communities of higher education” in the world (Cambridge / Boston) directly impacted Massachusetts activity around entrepreneurship and innovation.  While I’ve gotten stuck in the “public university / government / private university” discussion loop many times around this, I always suggest that we “take the discussion up a level” since the core question is “how can state government help?”

Today, Roger Fillion of the Rocky Mountain News wrote a damning article summarizing the new Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation which showed Colorado falling to #9 from #3 over the past five years in “adapting to the new economy.”  When this study was done in 1999 and 2002, Colorado was #3.  Colorado is now #9 (the top five spots are Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington and California.)

I haven’t studied this report, but I think Roger nails it in his article.  The key quote is from Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation: “Other states have made major investments in expanding higher education, particularly research centers related to their state economies and specialties.  My sense is that Colorado didn’t do that as much in the last decade.”

There are other issues, like the crash in the telecom industry, that impacted Colorado.  But – fundamentally – the issue seems to come back to higher education.

There is some good news – Colorado continues to rank in the top three in several categories including education level of the work force, companies selling stock to the public for the first time, high-tech jobs, and patents. Plus, I believe the quality of life in Colorado is #1 in the country – notwithstanding yet another snow storm that we are having today.

Atkinson ends with the following: “It has such a great quality of life, and it’s a wonderful place to live. It’s this mecca for college-educated workers. And it has a lot of high-tech firms. [But it has] failed to combine these with a policy that spurs innovation – one, for example, that boosts the role of colleges and universities in promoting innovation and growth.”  

Governor Ritter – you have a fresh shot at it.  Let’s reverse the slide that your predecessor helped create.

  • I lived in Colorado Springs for about two years (99-2001) and found the state to be very different, primarily because it seems that almost no one that lives in CO is actually FROM CO.

    Although the locals didn’t care much for it, Colorado seems to have the opposite problem that many other states face, that being the “brain drain”. I currently live in Wisconsin where the “brain drain” is perceived as a big problem. I.e., after investing a lot of tax payer dollars into the state university system, how do you realize the returns if the graduates have to leave the state to find good work? And why would you increase spending/taxes if you can’t capitalize on it? It’s a bit of a Catch-22, I guess.

    Colorado benefits in that they can lure graduates from other locales. Having said that, one of the most competent coworkers I have is a UC-Boulder grad (CS major). 🙂

    CO has some pretty good state schools, yet it was my education from a non-CO school that went a long way towards securing my job in Colo Spgs. My boss was simply not pleased with the in-state engineering grads he was seeing.

    Tax payer funded higher education is always intersing politics. Quality education is obviously critical to a region’s economy, but only if you can capitalize on the product. I wonder if Colorado tax dollars are best served by trying to steal talent from other states? After living in the tax-heavy state of WI for a few years, I miss the lower taxes of CO, even if it meant that the state couldn’t aford to paing the lines of roads with paint that lasted more than a week….

    Perhaps Colorado should set up a business office in Cambridge?

    Sorry…didn’t mean to ramble on your blog…

  • While higher education is certainly important to any economic engine, it’s unclear how much impact Governor Ritter can have in light of the 1992 TABOR ammendment’s restriction on state spending everywhere.

    Of course, simply increasing funding for higher education doesn’t automatically lead to those institutions promoting innovation and growth.

    However, when you ask “How can state government help”, do you expect any other answer than “First, we need to increase funding” ?

    I suspect the Governor will need concrete examples of what changes actually lead to the promotion of innovation and growth so that any hard-fought investment increases will result in progress.

  • I have to agree with your point that Colorado doesn’t seem to be putting much effort into furthering education in a way that will help the economy. It seems that now a days most people living in Colorado just moved here, and are working for home for companies out of state. I think if the government could put more effort into starting education programs that can help raise the economy here, and keep people employed in this state we would be much better off.

  • Dave Jilk

    One bright spot is the Health Sciences Center. Have you seen what they’re putting together down there? Pretty impressive.

  • Colorado’s Arapahoe HS has a highly thought of staff blog – Check out their three presentations in the right toolbar.