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CU's decade of change and accomplishments

By: Bruce D. Benson
April 16, 2018 Updated: April 16, 2018 at 4:05 am
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I've seen a lot of change in my decade as president of the University of Colorado. It's essentially the same place where I earned my degree in 1964, with world-class faculty delivering high-quality education and conducting cutting-edge research that improves lives and advances knowledge. Yet it's also different in important ways.

What's changed most is the size and scope of our operation. We now have four campuses - Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and the Anschutz Medical Campus. Each has particular strengths and offers something for every student. CU has 63,000 students (an additional 8,000 take courses for credit), up from 54,000 a decade ago. Online enrollments went from 30,500 in 2010 to 55,000 today. We graduate about 15,700 students annually (up from 12,900 10 years ago), most of whom remain in Colorado and form the highly skilled workforce helping our state thrive.

CU's annual budget has nearly doubled in 10 years to our current $4.1 billion, making us a significant driver of Colorado's economy. Our economic impact on the state is $12.8 billion annually (up from $5.3 billion in 2011, the most recent study) when you include our hospital partners on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Our faculty increased research funding from $660 million 10 years ago to more than $1 billion today. This not only enhances their work, but also has a substantial ripple effect on Colorado's economy. In the past decade, CU faculty have secured 451 patents and their work has led to the creation of 103 companies.

Perhaps the most important change over the decade came in the university's culture. The culture is that blend of the things that helps us create the environment necessary to meet our mission and serve our students and state by keeping CU affordable and accessible. Our culture includes how we collaborate, how we exemplify our values and ensure our campuses are marketplaces of ideas, how we deliver our academic programs, how we improve our business practices, ways we innovate and seek efficiencies, how we foster diversity, how we promote and protect our reputation.

A big part of our culture is an institutional mindset of efficiency. We slashed red tape by cutting policies from 210 to 88. We engaged in a decadelong collaboration with Colorado legislators to secure legislation freeing us from stifling regulation. The result was nearly 20 bills that allow greater operational efficiency (in everything from purchasing contracts to capital construction). Additional bills allow flexibility in financial aid, tuition and international enrollment. Most help not only CU, but all public higher education in Colorado.

The winners are our students, whose tuition is kept in check. We also support them with $184 million in financial aid, up from $88 million a decade ago.

Legislation and internal efficiencies have saved CU millions in the past decade. In the past three years alone, we've realized $112 million in savings and cost avoidance. That helped increase our bond rating from Aa3 to Aa1, which will save an estimated $65 million in bond-related costs.

Diversity is also critical to our culture. CU has made significant gains in the past decade, particularly with minority students, yet we have work to do. We have also expanded our definition of diversity to include socioeconomic status, geography (particularly rural) and political and intellectual viewpoints. We need to provide access to all points of view and teach students how to think, not what to think.

We have hosted speakers on every side of the political and intellectual spectrum without the intolerance and violence we've seen at other campuses. We created an academic unit, the Center for Western Civilization, Thought and Policy, that brings more balance to classrooms and discussions on campus and beyond.

We revamped CU's antiquated fundraising model, moving nearly 200 fundraisers from the private CU Foundation to the university payroll, ensuring greater accountability and better results. A decade ago, we raised $135 million annually. Last year we raised $386.3 million, and we'll likely surpass $400 million this year. We've grew our endowment from $640 million 10 years ago to $1.3 billion today.

I've been honored to serve as CU president for the past 10 years. It's been a privilege to lead an exemplary team that has moved Colorado's flagship university forward in so many ways. Our high-quality faculty and staff serve equally high-quality students. We've accomplished much, but we also have much more to do for CU to continue to serve our state and its students.

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Bruce D. Benson is president of the University of Colorado.

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