By Darcie Nolan
The Colorado Springs Quality of Life Indicators Report for 2015-2016 has been released and, while statistics indicate the region may be getting safer, other areas including public health and education still need work.
For the first time, Pikes Peak United Way commissioned the UCCS Economic Forum to draft the report.
The analysis focuses on 11 aspects of living in the Pikes Peak region, including demographics, the economy, access to recreation, land use, education and housing.
There have been seven published QLI reports over the past 10 years, the previous six drafted by volunteers. By commissioning experts to build the report, Pikes Peak United Way and underwriters of the assessment sought to create a more rigorous document that could be a local information resource for the public and private sectors. Underwriters include the city of Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and HUB International.
“You can’t really objectively measure how your community is doing unless you have good, comprehensive data across all of the spectrums,” said Tatiana Bailey, executive director of the UCCS Economic Forum and overseer of the team that brought together the multi-dimensional report.
Within the 11 indicators are trends and comparisons that help establish where the region is doing well and where improvements are needed.
One trend that will affect industries across the community is the area’s growing population.
“We are one of the five counties in the state that is projected to have the highest rate of [population] increase between now and 2050,” Bailey said. The Colorado Springs MSA has grown nearly twice as fast as the national average since 2005, and that trend continues. The population in the county is expected to increase by 400,000 by 2050 and, according to the report, the local population is projected to get older.
But there is also strong growth in the 30-49 age group -— a favorable trend for businesses.
Information from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs shows the Colorado Springs MSA had more than 50 percent of local population growth linked to in-migration — more people moving in than out of the area. Net migration is expected to be a factor in coming years.
Missing the mark
According to data, education is one sector that needs improvement. Fifteen of the 17 local K-12 districts are below the national average for spending per student, which is $11,009. The only two that spend at the national average or above are Hanover District 28 ($11,399) and Edison District 54 JT ($12,327). According to the report, spending per pupil in the Colorado Springs MSA drops as low as $6,938 per student per year.
This spending includes teacher pay and benefits. According to Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer for School District 11, approximately 85 percent of school budgets go to teacher salaries and benefits. While local wages overall are lower than the state average, El Paso County has seen some growth. Nine of 12 sectors show wage increases, according to the report. Education wages, however, have remained stagnant.
“We are not going to be competitive with other states,” Gustafson said regarding teacher recruitment. “Young people coming out of college with student loans have a choice. There is no doubt we sell Pikes Peak a thousandfold over, but at some point young couples have to make some decisions.”
Migration projections, along with low education spending, are the two factors contributing to the “Colorado Paradox,” Bailey said.
“We are actually a pretty educated state, but it is people moving here. It is not homegrown, so to speak,” Bailey said. “That discrepancy in per-pupil spending is indicative of the fact that we probably underfund education and, at some point, that is going to hurt us.”
Potential use of the full report is wide-ranging. The QLI statistics are valuable for local businesses across sectors, the public and policy-makers who are interested in harnessing the positive momentum in some study areas to bring all sectors forward.
“We are doing really well; let’s look at what is working well and run with that,” said Bailey, “then look at some areas that need some improvement and figure out how to ride the current economic wave and raise all boats.”
The full report is available at ppunitedway.org.