CCA President Dr. Mordecai Brownlee Represents CCCS on Workforce Development Panel


As a product of community colleges, Dr. Mordecai Brownlee knows “it’s hard to dream about the things you’ve never seen.”

Now the sixth president of the Community College of Aurora, Dr. Brownlee didn’t expect much from his future as a young person. When he finally quit his overnight job to attend community college—a promise he had made to his mother— “a light bulb went off.”

“It took some investing in me to see the value in myself,” he told an audience of over 100 business, government, and education leaders. “I think all of us have the responsibility to bring those opportunities to others.”

His comments were part of a panel hosted by the Colorado Business Roundtable, a public policy organization bringing together executives from Colorado’s largest employers. Joined by the presidents of Colorado State University (CSU), Colorado Mesa University, and University of Northern Colorado (UNC), Dr. Brownlee shared strategies to get more Coloradans into the workforce.

“The real key is providing social and economic mobility—fighting poverty,” he said. “Collectively we are being very strategic about what is happening around our state and the resources that we have available.”

The real key is providing social and economic mobility—fighting poverty. Collectively we are being very strategic about what is happening around our state and the resources that we have available.

Dr. Mordecai BrownleePresidentCommunity College of Aurora

Strengthening Partnerships

Over the hourlong session, the group talked about ways higher education institutions could expand their role in Colorado’s workforce development ecosystem.

Among many challenges is getting more learners to pursue higher education in the first place. Due to Colorado’s strong economy, many working-age adults are opting for entry-level jobs and putting learning on hold. Others assume that college is too expensive despite the availability of financial aid, the leaders said.

“What I worry about is this narrative about student debt that will prevent people from going to college,” said Amy Parsons, president of CSU. “A lot of it is messaging more than reality when we’re telling the story about cost.”

To counter this perception, colleges should focus on creating more navigable pathways to in-demand jobs, Dr. Brownlee said. CCA is partnering with local K-12 school districts to expand “early college” programs that bus students to campus for four hours each school day. Improving Colorado’s transfer system will also help more learners complete a degree.

“How do we strengthen the brands of these partnerships so that a student is walking right over to CSU, or UNC, and we’re holding hands together?” he said. “It’s about making the process more efficient for students so that we are winning the fight on debt.”

‘Everyone is College Material’

To meet the workforce needs of the state, colleges are also standing up new programs in an array of in-demand fields. With recent federal and state investments in medicine and quantum fields, universities are racing to produce more engineers, doctors, and researchers, leaders from UNC and CSU said.

A man wearing glasses and a blue checkered blazer speaks into a microphone while gesturing with his hand.

We’re working collectively to change the perception about who is college material. Everyone is college material.

Dr. Mordecai BrownleePresidentCommunity College of Aurora

Given their focus on career-connected education, community colleges can provide a sustainable pipeline for these industries and more, Dr. Brownlee pointed out. He cited a renewed partnership with Oakwood Homes to turn out more construction workers.

“We’re bringing their Build Strong Academy within our new Center for STEM, Power Mechanics, and Applied Technology,” he explained. “This is a seamless pathway with non-credit and credit options that go directly toward jobs in engineering and construction management.”

The college is redoubling partnerships with organizations like Arapahoe/Douglas Works and local businesses to expand work-based learning, including internships and externships positions. CCA is also embedding financial literacy into several programs to ensure learners make the most of their earning power.

The goal is to help more first-generation learners see their potential and successfully contribute to Colorado’s economy, Dr. Brownlee noted.

“We’re working collectively to change the perception about who is college material. Everyone is college material,” he said.


Photos courtesy of InSync Photography + Design.

View full gallery of the COBRT 2024 Future of Work event.

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