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Morgridge Dean Offers Solutions to Improve Education, Economy

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Lorne Fultonberg


Lorne Fultonberg


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News  •
Dean Karen Riley

There is a paradox in Colorado, Morgridge College of Education Dean Karen Riley told a crowd in Denver’s Speer neighborhood. The state’s housing marketbusiness climate and economyare all surging, she said, “and yet we're not seeing some of those dollars and some of that impact realized in our education system.”

Axios, a Washington, D.C.-based news media company, tapped Riley to share her knowledge and search for solutions in a conversation centered on the interplay among Denver’s small businesses, education systems and the local economy. Riley was the first guest on an afternoon slate that also featured insight from Gov. John Hickenlooper and J.J. Ament, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.

One thing that’s holding the state back, Riley said, is an urban-rural imbalance. The Denver metro area, for example, boasts a number of exemplary schools and universities. “The concern that we have right now is: What's going on in rural communities?” she said. “We're not seeing those same kind of resources realized in rural communities. We're really interested in how we, in the metro area, extend those resources and support those communities so that all the children in our state are thriving.”

To spread the wealth, the University has launched ECHO DU, a distance education program. The pilot, which finds Morgridge partnering with the larger DU campus as well as community organizations, will work to better train teachers through videoconferencing and mentorships.

“We have a lot of people who are interested in becoming teachers or small-business owners who want to stay in their communities,” Riley explained. “But in order to learn, they oftentimes need to leave that community. If they can stay in the community [and receive some sort of quality, post-secondary education] ... then we can keep those individuals and that talent in those communities and grow their economies.”

Axios Panel
Photo: Justin Beach

Getting results, Ament added during his conversation, requires across-the-board cooperation. He referenced studies that show states with better education systems are more profitable.

Riley agreed that collaboration with businesses is key to establishing strong distance-learning programs that level the playing field. Meanwhile, she added, students — and therefore their teachers — need to be up to speed on technology and the skill sets required to apply it.

Innovation floors and high-tech maker spaces are great, Riley continued, but “the 3-D printer is not going to be so sexy in a few years. [Students] are going to say: ‘3-D printing? Big deal.’ But understanding that you can use technology as a means to helping other people, that's what we hope we're instilling in our students and teaching teachers how to do that.

“Throughout DU, we are really trying to think about building those reasoning skills, learning how to adapt, being flexible thinkers because that's really what we'll need people to do in the future.”