GUEST COLUMN: All Coloradans benefit from state universities’ contributions

September 16, 2011

By Joe Blake and Bruce Benson

Guest columnists

People from around Colorado will converge on Denver today for the Cinch Jeans Rocky Mountain Showdown between the Colorado State University Rams and University of Colorado Buffaloes. Many more fans will tune in to broadcasts of the game.

It’s no surprise the game has statewide appeal.  Tens of thousands of Coloradans have connections to our universities as alumni, students, parents, supporters, and faculty and staff. Whether connected to us, all Coloradans benefit from the economic, social and cultural contributions our six research universities provide.

Those benefits are often tangible and obvious. More than 200,000 alumni from our universities live and work in Colorado. They contribute to communities, pay taxes and are the backbone of Colorado’s human capital. We also prepare the highly educated workforce that feeds key economic sectors and keeps our state competitive. CU and CSU campuses award three quarters of the undergraduate degrees granted annually by Colorado’s four-year public institutions and nearly nine of 10 graduate degrees. Our combined economic impact is a noteworthy $10 billion annually.

Perhaps less visible, but as important, is the impact our research activities have on Colorado and beyond. Our campuses bring more than $1 billion in research funding to the state.  Those funds not only help create jobs, improve infrastructure and have a significant multiplier effect in the private sector, but also help faculty researchers address critical issues facing our state and society.

In large measure because of the efforts of our universities, Colorado is a national leader in developing renewable and sustainable energy technologies. We address issues at the leading edge of health care that improve care and save lives. We push the frontiers of biosciences by combining efforts in medicine, engineering, physics, chemistry and other disciplines.

Our faculties frequently collaborate. We partner to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment through a pioneering effort between the Animal Cancer Center at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the CU Cancer Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus. We teamed with faculty at the Colorado School of Mines and scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to further renewable energy. With colleagues at the University of Northern Colorado, we created the Colorado School of Public Health, the only effort of its kind in the Rocky Mountain region. It educates health care professionals and partners with communities across Colorado to address health-related needs.

CSU and CU provide programs and outreach activities in every corner of the state. Our institutions offer hundreds of community-based programs, partnerships and educational offerings. We make a difference in communities across Colorado.

From a vantage point inside Colorado, the value of our research universities is obvious. Yet we sometimes overlook their contributions to external perceptions of the state. Colorado evokes images of our enviable lifestyle and setting. Yet for the state to be competitive nationally and globally, we also need to promote ourselves as a center of discovery and innovation.

We want Colorado to be seen as a place where leading-edge research drives the economy, provides a highly skilled workforce, creates jobs and companies, and addresses important societal issues. Research universities are crucial to the reality that will build that perception.

We will continue to do our part to contribute to our state so people and companies will converge on Colorado to do more than watch football.

Bruce Benson is president of the University of Colorado system. Joe Blake is chancellor of the Colorado State University system.

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