Castle Rock, Colorado, is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, with 19.5-percent growth in the past six years. Previously, 80 percent of residents commuted outside the city for work; however, citizens in Castle Rock and greater Douglas County, Colorado, have a newfound commitment to transform the city into a standalone community that offers residents an abundance of career opportunities.

In response, Arapahoe Community College (ACC), the town of Castle Rock, Castle Rock Economic Development Council, Colorado State University (CSU), and the Douglas County School District (DCSD) formed a joint venture to change the educational landscape for local students and the surrounding community. The alliance is also serving as a national model for communities seeking to create a collaborative higher-ed hub that builds a local talent pipeline and drives regional and state-wide economic growth.

Creating a collaborative higher-ed hub

When it opens this fall, the Arapahoe Community College Sturm Collaboration Campus will offer learners a seamless transition from high school diploma to associate degree to bachelor’s degree to career, with the goal of having multiple on- and off-ramps along the way.

ACC will own and operate the facility and will lease space to DCSD, CSU, and local businesses to generate capital and to provide built-in partnerships. Designed by DLR Group, the Sturm Collaboration Campus is strategically located between Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, one of the largest employers in Castle Rock, and Castle View High School, one of the largest high schools in the county, reinforcing the desired connection between K-12, higher education, and industry.

In March 2019, ACC received a private gift of up to $10 million from the Sturm Family Foundation, the largest in the history of the 13-institution Colorado Community College System. Approximately half of the Sturm’s gift will be immediately invested in several areas, including program and staffing startup and state-of-the-art equipment and technology. Matching dollars raised by the ACC Foundation will augment a unique program innovation fund, an endowed scholarship fund, and an investment in the future phase II of the campus.

The 4 pillars of success for a collaborative higher-ed hub

Initial conversations began approximately six years ago between the Castle Rock Economic Development Council, ACC, and CSU. These partners then engaged DCSD in the discussions to add the important K-12 element. The comprehensive partnership and campus plan was finalized in 2017, followed by a groundbreaking for phase I of the campus in May 2018. During the planning stages, the primary partners agreed on four pillars that would drive programming and operations: partnerships, innovation, pathways, and sustainability.

1. Partnerships are the crux of the Sturm Collaboration Campus. DCSD provides access to the next-generation workforce and ensures students are aware of programs and opportunities as early as elementary school. ACC owns the facility and offers instructional and training courses where students earn two-year degrees or industry certification. As a land grant university, CSU brings a local research arm that allows research teams to co-identify and co-solve local problems related to environment, industry, and community. CSU also offers advanced academic programs and course-completion opportunities as students earn bachelor’s degrees. Businesses offer internships and apprenticeships that give students real-life working experience and are rewarded with a well-trained workforce.

2. Innovation at the Sturm Collaboration Campus is defined as industry first. Business partners are taking the lead, informing educational partners of their needs and how the campus’ programs and operations can best support those needs—a detour from the traditional relationship between education and industry. DLR Group’s design is a direct result of feedback and input from industry partners, with interior spaces that are flexible, mobile, and expandable to respond to changes in the marketplace. Glass provides transparency and adds to the energy and excitement of what’s happening inside the facility. Plus, the campus offers multiple spaces for hosting community and business events, which brings industry partners and residents into the building and creates a true community-use facility.

3. Armed with knowledge and statistics from the annual Colorado Talent Pipeline Report, the partners identified three initial career and academic pathways to supply the most in-demand jobs in the region. Pathways include health and wellness, business and entrepreneurship, and information technology and programming; students complete their selected pathway criteria through a hybrid of in-person labs, face-to-face classes, and online coursework. Students work with campus navigators to align their educational pathways with the needs of local businesses and can enroll in work-based learning opportunities through internships, apprenticeships, and full- or part-time positions. To remain relevant and address Colorado’s current workforce skills gap, pathways will evolve as industry needs change over time.

4. Sustainability is two-fold, relating to both the viability of the program and the physical building. To transform Castle Rock into a thriving, autonomous community, the unification of education, industry, and community agencies must be sustainable for future generations; therefore, the partners formed an industry-led Talent Pipeline Douglas County group whose goal is to ensure continuous improvement and evolution of the Sturm Collaboration Campus. In addition, DLR Group designed the building with low-maintenance materials to reduce operational costs. The interior design is modern industrial, featuring polished concrete, painted steel columns, beams and joists, and wood to create a warm and inviting space where students, community members, and business partners can test ideas and solutions.

In August, the Sturm Collaboration Campus will officially welcome its first cohort of students. Stay tuned for a follow up to this post once the facility is open, including more insights into the campus’ design and features.

About the Author:

Eric Dunker, Ph.D., is dean of business, technology & workforce partnerships at Arapahoe Community College in Colorado and has co-led the Sturm Collaboration Campus academic, partnership, and program planning. He can be reached at Eric.Dunker@arapahoe.edu.

DLR Group Principal Bob Binder, AIA, leads the firm’s higher education studio in Colorado. He can be reached at bbinder@dlrgroup.com.


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