New Era Advocacy Director Appointed For Higher Ed Commission

July 31, 2019

Our Advocacy Director, Charley Olena, was just appointed by Governor Polis to serve on the Colorado Commission on Higher Education! It’s essential for our generation to have a seat at the table with issues like higher education that directly impact us.

Congratulations to Charley for this incredible honor—we’re so excited for her to fight for and give a voice to young people across Colorado.

Want to know more about Charley’s vision for higher ed in Colorado? Check out what she submitted to the Governor:

“I wish to serve as a Commissioner on Higher Education for the State of Colorado because I believe our state is at a crossroads when it comes to the future of higher education.

We consistently rank in the bottom five for state funding for higher education institutions. Some news reports have even posited that we may be the first state in the nation to eliminate funding for higher education. Yet studies estimate that by 2020, we will need the second most-educated citizenry in the country to meet the demands of our booming economy. We graduate more than 52% of our students with student loans averaging over $32,000. We know the need for higher education is greater than ever, but we consistently rank near the bottom of the barrel for our high schools completing their FAFSA applications, leaving over $50 million in aid on the table in 2015.

Our workforce is changing. Costs of college are skyrocketing. The burden of student debt has never been greater. It is no longer enough to work hard and play by the rules to be successful in our modern economy. You cannot pay for a college education scooping ice cream for a summer.

Now, more than ever before, we need strong leaders and visionaries grappling with the question of the future of higher education. We need to think bigger, and more critically, about what it means to pursue higher education: the kinds of programs and degrees institutions are providing, the financial support available to our students, and what inclusive, responsive, and accessible higher education looks like. 

There is ample evidence to demonstrate that higher education is often inaccessible for many students from lower socio-economic backgrounds or students of color. Black students, for example, are 150% more likely to accumulate student debt in the six-figures. One study found that 12 years after entering college, 20 percent of black students who graduated with a BA had defaulted on a student loan within 12 years of entering college, compared to only 4 percent of white graduates. These challenges are not unique to Colorado, but we are uniquely positioned to address them.

The tens of thousands of students I work with across the state every year are ready for change. In the summer of 2017 we surveyed over 2,000 young Coloradans on their top issues. 75% of respondents ranked the high cost of college/student debt as a top three issue out of a list of 20. With Governor Polis advancing a strong vision for higher education in Colorado, with CDHE pushing forward with their master plan, we have an unprecedented opportunity to tackle some of the biggest questions we face in the higher education space. 

I want to serve on the Commission for Higher Education because I believe we are at a crossroads. The turn that we take in the next four years will impact thousands of Coloradans and their families for generations to come. That is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, and I’m honored to be appointed.”