DU’s Keystone Strategic Plan leads to action


The 20th century model of delivering a liberal and creative arts education is inadequate to the task of developing graduates who can think broadly and critically in and out of their chosen fields.

—From the Keystone Strategic Plan 2018-2025


We are thrilled to celebrate the creation of the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Denver.

The creation of the College is a direct result of their strategic planning process. The exciting Keystone Strategic Plan commits the college to nothing less than the transformation of the liberal and creative arts education in alignment with the University’s transformation under DU IMPACT 2025.


What role will the social sciences, arts, and humanities play in a world that increasingly operates through artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and big data? A very important one. The careers and lives of tomorrow will be defined by distinctly human qualities such as ethical judgment, creativity, adaptability, agility, and storytelling.

—From the Keystone Strategic Plan 2018-2025


“This plan represents the best of our strategy work at Corona. We are thrilled with the resulting plan and look forward to the momentum and positive changes it creates for the students, staff, faculty, and alumni of the college,” said Karla Raines.

Read the full press release here. See the video that DU produced about the plan below.

Aging in Wyoming

Earlier, we reported on a joint project that we conducted with Heinrich Marketing to examine the different ways that Wyoming youth move into adulthood.  Today we’ll look at the other side of the spectrum, examining how Wyoming residents age.

We examined the timeline by which different life events happen among older adults, including retirement, health issues, losing one’s spouse, and other issues.  We ultimately developed a timeline of these events to better understand how – and when – older adults face life changes that are associated with aging.

Check out the abridged version of our presentation here (pdf).

Adulting in Wyoming

Working with our partners at Heinrich Marketing, we recently prepared an analysis of the “adulting” process for young people in Wyoming.  We were curious about the timing and acceptance of various traditional indicators of adulthood, such as having kids, pursuing a full-time career, and others.  There are many models of being an adult based on these traditional indicators, so we examined 32 different models to see which was the most common in the state.

Check out the abridged version of our presentation here (pdf).

And stay tuned – soon we’ll post another presentation on Aging in Wyoming.

There’s No Place Like Home

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

If you have walked through downtown Denver recently, you know that it is hard to miss the growing homeless population. Civic Center Park has become a meeting place for many in the homeless population—a place where they can gather to share stories, food, and cell phones.  Each year, Denver conducts a “Point in Time” (PIT) survey that aims to count the number of people experiencing homelessness. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducts an annual Point-in-Time (PIT) survey to track the rate of homelessness across the nation. Individual cities are responsible for collecting the data, with assistance from Local Homeless Coalitions, and provide the data to HUD, as well as publish a local report. In Denver, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative oversees the PIT survey. The 2018 Denver PIT survey found that 5,317 people are experiencing homelessness in the city and county of Denver, competing for a total of approximately 1,000 emergency shelter beds (MDHI 2018). This number is up from the PIT count of 3,336 homeless persons in 2017.

Over time, the city of Denver has taken various approaches to “solving” the issue of homelessness. In 2003, the Denver Department of Human Services published a report titled “A Blueprint for Addressing Homeless in Denver” which outlined a ten-year action plan aimed at ending “chronic homelessness in Denver that will also address homeless prevention and the enhancement of services for populations with special needs” (Denver Homeless Planning Group 2003: 4). In 2005, Proclamation 53 was signed by then-mayor John Hickenlooper, expressing official support for Denver’s Road Home program—an initiative to secure housing for the city’s homeless population. Despite these, and other, city initiatives the homeless population in Denver continues to grow and housing costs surge past national averages. While the numbers may seem bleak, one Denver non-profit has followed the path laid out by other major cities such as Seattle, WA and Austin, TX and searched for an innovative solution. This solution came in the form of tiny houses.

Tiny homes burst onto the scene in the early 2000s. Small, sometimes mobile, homes with sleek designs offered a minimalist housing solution to people seeking a break from the materiality of the modern world. In Denver, tiny homes are now being used to provide a safe housing solution for some of Denver’s homeless population. Beloved Community Village, located in Denver’s River North (RiNo) district, consists of 11 tiny homes, housing up to 22 people. The self-governing community opened in July 2017, operating as a 180-day pilot project. In January 2018, Beloved Community Village was forced to relocate after their six-month lease with the Urban Land Conservancy expired. Luckily, the community was able to relocate only 200 feet away onto another property owned by the Urban Land Conservancy. Unfortunately, the Urban Land Conservancy and the city of Denver have only officially approved another 180-day lease agreement for the tiny house village, leaving the permanency of Beloved Community Village in question.

According to Beloved Community Village website, the village’s purpose “is to provide a home base and safe place for those who are presently in Denver and have no other place to live. With this collection of secure and insulated homes, we provide a viable solution in the midst of the current housing crisis.” While Beloved Community Village has been successful thus far in living and embodying their purpose, one has to wonder whether the tiny home model can be expanded to accommodate even more homeless residents in the Denver-metro area and throughout the state of Colorado. In May 2018, the organization behind Beloved Community Village, the Colorado Village Collaborative, revealed they are actively working to open another tiny home community at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in downtown Denver. The new village will have eight tiny homes, designated specifically for women and transgender homeless residents.

Affordable housing remains a crucial need in Denver and across the nation, as housing costs continue to rise and wages continue to stagnate. Cities and towns must face this problem head-on and work to understand how and why their communities are affected in order to develop strategies and initiatives to tackle homelessness. Homelessness is only one problem though and does not exist in isolation, thus cities need to ensure they understand the greater context and vulnerabilities unique to their community. The issues involved span everything from zoning laws and development to population growth and migration to mental health and criminal justice services. In 2016 and 2017, Corona Insights conducted a needs assessment for the city of Longmont. The research found that some of the greatest needs facing community residents are the ability to find affordable housing options and in turn, paying for housing. Furthermore, between 2010 and 2014, the availability of rental properties with a monthly rent below $800 decreased by 33%. The completion of the needs assessment and its subsequent report in Longmont equipped the city government with knowledge to better meet the human service needs of their residents.

Homelessness is a pervasive issue in many urban centers and rural areas across the country, with no end in sight. Local governments and non-profit organizations both have roles to play in addressing homelessness. Communities and organizations interested in addressing homelessness may benefit from commissioning a community needs assessment to uncover systemic challenges in their local area, and committing to enact changes informed by the assessment findings.  Armed with information and compassion, we can begin to dismantle the barriers that lead to homelessness. The time is now.

Defining the Vulnerable and At-Risk Populations: Who are We Really Looking At?

A few weeks ago, I was talking with my brother about a needs assessment survey his company is doing. The company wanted to ensure that vulnerable and at-risk populations were accurately represented in the results of this needs assessment survey. However, there was some disagreement over what groups of people were considered vulnerable or at-risk. He felt that LGBTQ individuals should be considered vulnerable or at-risk.  I thought he made an interesting point, so I wanted to see how vulnerable and at-risk populations are typically defined, and if they represent the same or different groups. I chose to look at these definitions through the lens of health.

Vulnerable populations

The World Health Organization defines vulnerable as “… the degree to which a population, individual or organization is unable to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impacts of disasters.” Under this definition, WHO considers the following groups to be vulnerable: children, pregnant women, elderly people, malnourished people, and people who are ill or immunocompromised.

While that provides a great starting point for a definition, I also wanted to find one that is a bit more US-centric, just to cover my bases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that vulnerable populations may include anyone who has difficulty communicating, has difficulty accessing medical care, may need help maintaining independence, requires constant supervision, or may need help accessing transportation.

Cutting across both the WHO definition and the CDC’s outline for vulnerable populations, I found a great, if possibly outdated, article from the American Journal of Managed Care that separates vulnerable populations into three health domains: physical, psychological, and social.

“The health domains of vulnerable populations can be divided into 3 categories: physical, psychological, and social. Those with physical needs include high-risk mothers and infants, the chronically ill and disabled, and persons living with HIV/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Chronic medical conditions include respiratory diseases, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and heart disease.

In the psychological domain, vulnerable populations include those with chronic mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as well as those with a history of alcohol and/or substance abuse and those who are suicidal or prone to homelessness.

In the social realm, vulnerable populations include those living in abusive families, the homeless, immigrants, and refugees.”

At-risk populations

As far as I can tell, the difference between vulnerable populations and at-risk populations is blurry. For example, the US Department of Health and Human Service’s At-Risk, Behavioral Health, and Community Resilience Division provides a definition of at-risk that is very similar to WHO’s definition of vulnerable. They state that at-risk individuals “…are people with access and functional needs that may interfere with their ability to access or receive medical care before, during, or after a disaster or emergency.” Further, they define at-risk individuals as children, older adults, pregnant women, and individuals who may need additional response assistance.

Healthy People 2020 focuses on social determinants of health as a way of identifying people at risk of poorer health outcomes. They group these determinants into five categories: economic stability, education, social and community context, health and health care, and neighborhood and built environment. Anyone facing a more challenging environment may be considered more at risk than another population, but this too requires judgment.


A final way to identify a vulnerable or at-risk group is to consider whether there are disparities in the outcome domain, such as health. SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) definition of a health disparity is “[A] particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.”

Overall, there is a significant gray area when trying to identify a vulnerable population or an at-risk population.  For the purpose of a needs assessment, it is up to the organization conducting the assessment to determine if they also want to consider groups that experience disparities. Ultimately, I would argue that it depends on the goals outlined for the needs assessment itself. Additionally, one should consider the community in which the needs assessment is taking place, as different populations may find themselves to fall under the vulnerable, at-risk or even disparities definitions in different communities.

Higher Education Blog Series Recap

As the academic year ends for many colleges and universities, we are wrapping up our Higher Education quarterly blog series here at Corona Insights. Here is a recap of what we have explored over the last few months:

With a long history of working with higher education institutions, we hope our deep dive into the state of higher education provides meaningful insight for those looking to learn more about what’s happening at campuses across the United States.

To stay on top of everything we cover, sign up for our quarterly newsletter, The Corona Observer.

Be sure to stay tuned to the Radiance Blog next quarter for our next blog series topic!

The Complexities of Higher Education for Low-Income Students

In our recent blog series on Higher Education we’ve been discussing issues like the cost of attending college, the economic value of a college degree, and the impact of student loan debt.  Today, let’s drill down and examine these issues for low-income students, specifically.  Our review of the data on these issues suggests that both the costs and benefits of a college degree may be amplified for low-income students.

Last year, The Atlantic reported on an analysis by the Institute for Higher Education Policy that found that most colleges are unaffordable for all but the wealthiest students.  For students with a family income of $69,000 (which is higher than the U.S. median income) only about 25% of colleges were in reach, even assuming the family saved 10% of its discretionary income for the 10 years before college, the student worked 10 hours a week at a part-time job during college, and the student obtained all the federal student loan dollars they were eligible for.

More recently, NPR reported on a Wisconsin HOPE Lap study showing that in addition to struggling to pay for college, many college students struggle to pay for food and housing while they’re in college, which makes it harder for them to focus and learn as well as less likely to complete college.

Indeed, these pressures make it less likely that low-income students go to college at all. A 2010 study in the American Sociological Review analyzing data from two large single-cohort longitudinal surveys found that college graduates were more likely than those without college degrees to have come from high-income families, to have well-educated parents, to have high levels of cognitive ability, and to have social networks that supported college plans. However, they also showed that the economic returns on a college degree were greatest for those students who matched the characteristics of those least likely to complete college (low-income, less social support, etc.).  In other words, disadvantaged students who made it through college had a greater wage gap with their non-college “peers” compared to the wage gap for more-advantaged individuals. (To be clear, the average post-college wages of disadvantaged students were still lower than those of more-advantaged students.) The article offers the caveat that there may be other unmeasured characteristics that determine which disadvantaged individuals complete college and which do not, and that those characteristics might be responsible for some of the wage gap.

Still, the unaffordability of college for lower-income students functionally means there are fewer spots available for those students.  So, although they may benefit more from college than their wealthier peers, there are fewer options available to them.  One piece of good news for them is that the value of a college degree may be less dependent on the particular school than is often believed.  A 2014 study in the Economics of Education Review found that once student characteristics (e.g., cognitive ability, income) and other selection factors were controlled for, differences in the average earnings of graduates from 30 Texas colleges were minimal.

A final benefit of college for low-income students is social capital.  We’ve covered this previously in our blog series as well. The greater gains in economic returns for disadvantaged students may in part be due to larger gains in social capital. This is a point made strongly by J.D. Vance in his book, Hillbilly Elegy.  Importantly, greater social benefits come from less advantaged students being able to network with more advantaged students.  If the educational system becomes too stratified by socioeconomic status (i.e., some schools enroll only wealthier, academically-prepared students and some enroll only disadvantaged students) there will be fewer social capital gains for the disadvantaged students.  Similarly, stratified systems tend to draw less support for government funding, as a recent article in the Atlantic notes.

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the sixth post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.

Investigating Student Loan Debt

As a firm with collective decades spent earning advanced degrees on top of our professional work with higher education organizations, we are not new to the issue of growing student loan debt. We’ve all heard the complaints about rising student loan debt in America. Many of them stem from uncertainties about the economic benefits for graduates and for society overall. Parents might ask – how will my student ever climb out of the mountain of debt they’re buried under when they graduate? Public officials might ask – how will these students be anything other than an impediment to national economic progress when “70 percent of college students graduate with a significant amount of loans” and “more than 40 million Americans hold student loans, and many struggle with repayment?”

To be clear, this is not intended to denigrate the value of a higher education degree. As we’ve noted both in this blog series and in previous Radiance blogs, the evidence supports the long-term economic value for individuals and for society of a higher education degree. Instead, the goal of this blog is to shed light on the critical perspectives, shifting demands, and various approaches to solving the problems related to student loan debt in America.

From an economic perspective, not only does growing student loan debt potentially impact the career paths and outcomes of individual students, it also places a drag on the short-run of the American economy.  Indeed, over the last decade, student loan debt has more than doubled, growing from ~$500 billion in 2008 to a staggering $1.5 trillion in 2018. When graduates (even those with relatively high-paying salaries) are bogged down by heavy student loan debt, they spend less and they save less.

As we’ve seen when working with our higher education clients in recent years, students are increasingly focused on the return on their investment as they seek assurance related to their ability to pay off the debt they’ve incurred. This compels them to be shrewder consumers of the products of higher education; a potential benefit for both students as well as institutions of higher education. Students not only have to do more research into the services being offered across different institutions of higher education, they must think more carefully about personal finance and learn a few fundamentals, like what it means to default on a loan payment and the difference between a variable and fixed interest rate. Simultaneously, colleges and universities have been challenged by the career-related demands from students to be more innovative, distinctive, and societally relevant.

An alternative national approach to the burden of student loan debt is simply eliminating the costs of higher education altogether. Some countries, like Germany, have taken this approach by doing away entirely with tuition fees. Convinced of the long-term societal benefits for a highly educated workforce, Germany has invested in their students through overwhelming access to a higher education. Whether or not this approach will work, however, is still up for debate as some predict that, eventually, Germany will have to reinstate tuition fees to some degree.

Regardless whether the solution to growing student loan debt in America lies in policy, in higher education as an industry, in the shrewdness of students as customers, or in something else entirely, perhaps there is a silver lining in the burdens placed upon students and higher education as an industry as they are now. Namely, students have had to be considerably more intentional in planning for their careers while simultaneously new skills and financial fundamentals that set them up for success in the long-run. At the same time, colleges and universities operating in an industry that is notoriously slow to adapt to evolving societal demands have had to be innovative in their approaches to attracting students and persuasive in maintaining higher education’s vital civic role in society.

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the fifth post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.

GoodBusiness – The State of Corporate Philanthropy in Colorado

We were very excited to work with B:CIVIC, the Denver Chamber, DaVita, TIAA and the University of Denver to collect data about how businesses in Colorado are engaging with and giving to their communities. It was great to see that businesses of all sizes across Colorado are engaging in corporate philanthropy, especially at the local level. It was also interesting to see that in addition to cash donations, many businesses are offering support for their employees to donate time and money.

The report can be found here.

The Economics of Higher Education: An Interview with Jill Tiefenthaler, President of Colorado College

As Corona Insights explores the state of higher education, we turned to one of the experts in Jill Tiefenthaler, the 13th president of Colorado College. President Tiefenthaler is a leading scholar in field of the economics of higher education and has a thorough understanding of the key issues facing colleges and universities today. See our interview below:

  1. To start us off, can you tell us a bit about your background and areas of expertise in higher education?

I have a background in both higher education teaching and administration, which has informed my scholarship on the economics of higher education. After receiving my M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Duke University, I joined the faculty of Colgate University, where I also served as department chair and associate dean of the faculty. Prior to becoming president of Colorado College, I worked as provost and professor of economics at Wake Forest University.

I’ve served as president of Colorado College since 2011. During my tenure, I’ve overseen a historic alliance that created the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, the development and implementation of the Building on the Block strategic plan, and the largest fundraising campaign in the college’s history.

My academic focus is on the economics of higher education, particularly in relation to the liberal arts. I published an essay on the economic challenges facing liberal arts colleges in “Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts” (Johns Hopkins University Press, October 2013). I also teach a course on “The Economics of Higher Education” each year.

  1. In your view, what is the economic value of a higher education degree, both in terms of individual social mobility and in terms of the contributions to society as a whole? In other words, what are the economic benefits of higher education?

On both an individual and societal level, education pays. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that the economic returns (net of costs) to the individual of both a bachelor’s and associate’s degree are about 15% per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 Current Population Survey indicates that the median weekly earnings for persons 25 and over with a Bachelor’s degree are $1,156, compared with $692 per week for those with a high school diploma. And, this earnings gap is only widening, suggesting that there is less economic mobility for those without a college degree than in the past. A report by the Pew Research Center indicates that the median annual earnings gap between college and high school graduates for Millennials in 2013 was $17,500. By contrast for the “Silent” generation in 1965, the earnings gap was only $7,499 (in constant dollars). Additionally, the unemployment rate for those holding a Bachelor’s degree (2.7%) is almost half the unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma (5.2%) (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 2016).

Beyond the individual benefits, there are many public benefits of higher education in terms of civic engagement and use of public services. Those with college degrees are more likely to vote, more likely to volunteer and have better health outcomes including lower obesity rates, lower smoking rates and increased frequency of exercise. They are also less likely to be unemployed or in poverty and more likely to have saved for retirement.

  1. How have federal and state policy shaped the landscape of the economics of higher education, both in general and for private colleges like Colorado College? How do policy changes related to government subsidies play into the rising average cost of tuition and fees?

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen a reversal in how public college is funded. For example, in Colorado in the year 2000, the state funded approximately 2/3 of the cost of attending public college, and students paid about 1/3 in the form of tuition. Now, the funding structure is reversed, with students shouldering roughly 2/3 of the cost of college (Colorado Commission on Higher Education).

In Colorado, a significant factor in curbing state funding for education has been the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), passed in 1992. TABOR limits the amount of tax revenue the government can collect and spend, essentially limiting the state’s ability to invest in the future. Although the economy is currently growing and there is greater demand for highly educated workers, Colorado cannot retain the revenue to increase spending on education.

I would say that these cuts in state funding have affected public institutions more than they have affected Colorado College as a private institution. CC only receives about 1% of its total revenue from state and federal funding, so we have long been a tuition-dependent institution. Our tuition has actually increased at a slower rate than public institutions in recent years, in part because we’re able to provide each student a subsidy from the college’s endowment and annual philanthropic giving beyond what their tuition covers. State schools are now having to operate more like private institutions, raising tuition and growing their endowments to compensate for the loss of government subsidies.

We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the fourth post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.