Republican gubernatorial candidate Victor Mitchell on Thursday proposed redirecting all of Colorado’s higher education funding to support degrees in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and tripling the number of graduates in the fields.
The entrepreneur and former state legislator also said state colleges and universities are “ripping our families off, they’re ripping these kids off” by charging as much as they do for room and board, which costs an average $13,590 this year at the University of Colorado, according to estimates.
“I’m very passionate about education,” Mitchell says in a video posted online by his campaign. “Education is not the foundation of life, education is life itself.” He points out that he was a member of the House Education Committee when he served in the General Assembly a decade ago and that he’s taught college-level courses at two state universities.
Mitchell notes that there are roughly three times as many job openings in STEM fields in Colorado as the produces college graduates, adding that only one in four students graduate state colleges with STEM degrees and proposes tripling that ratio, aiming for turning out three out of four graduates in the fields.
“These are jobs that start at $80,000 up to $130,000 on day one — day one — after they graduate,” Mitchell says. “This changes people’s lives. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be difficult to accomplish this. But it’s possible. My plan is to take all of the state funding for higher education and have it earmarked entirely for STEM.”
The system is unbalanced, Mitchell maintains, because degrees in STEM disciplines tend to be the most expensive, while degrees in liberal arts, for instance — “whether it’s gender studies or psychology,” he says — cost roughly 1/3 less.
He declares that the state has to better prepare high school graduates for college, since some 35 percent of incoming college freshman from Colorado schools aren’t adequately prepared and require remedial education. He also vows to improve vocational training in secondary schools.
Mitchell says when he went to school some 30 years ago it cost just $250 to attend CU for a semester. “Today, it’s up to $30,000 a year to go in-state to CU. Almost half of that is housing. They’re ripping our families off, they’re ripping these kids off.”
Noting that Mitchell’s business background includes expertise in real estate, his campaign said he’ll change things if elected so that housing charges are more in line with actual costs.
Mitchell is one of four Republicans who have announced they’re running for governor in 2018 — the others are 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III and Loveland retiree Joanne Silva — when Gov. John Hickenlooper faces term limits.
According to campaign finance reports filed for the first three months of the year, Mitchell has self-funded his campaign to the tune of $3 million so far. He told The Colorado Statesman last week he intends to spend what it takes to win what could be an even more crowded primary.