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Research universities help our state succeed

By: Bruce D. Benson and Tony Frank
September 1, 2017 Updated: September 1, 2017 at 4:05 am
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The spotlight today will be on the competition on the football field between the Colorado State University Rams and the University of Colorado Buffaloes. But as the leaders of those institutions, our wider focus is on a different kind of competitiveness that goes well beyond football.

Research universities such as CU and CSU are key players in driving our state's economy and keeping Colorado competitive on the national and global stages. We prepare the highly skilled workforce our knowledge-based economy demands. Our faculty researchers innovate and invent. We partner with each other and with federal laboratories to find solutions to problems facing our state and society. We serve Colorado communities. All these activities not only contribute significantly to Colorado's competitiveness, but also enhance our quality of life.

CSU and CU are engines of discovery and innovation where scientists and researchers improve lives and advance knowledge. They attract significant federal funding to Colorado (about $1.5 billion last year) that has a substantial ripple effect on our state's economy.

Our combined economic impact is nearly $15 billion annually. CU and CSU are deeply involved in every major economic sector in the state, ensuring that we support those areas that guarantee our competitiveness, including biosciences, aerospace, agriculture, health care, energy and more.

We are magnets for business and industry in search of a highly skilled workforce and a great place to live and work. We help attract them here and play a significant role in keeping them here. Companies such as Martin Marietta and Arrow Electronics call Colorado home because of their proximity to research universities.

Institutions such as ours have become the primary research and development laboratories for American industry. Consider just a sampling of things in our daily lives that emerged from our nation's research universities: lasers, antibiotics, bar codes, FM radio, LED lighting, pap smears, electric toothbrushes, GPS technology. At CU and CSU, our researchers have collaborated on better cancer treatments, energy efficiencies, public health initiatives, safer food and many more advancements. They are in the vanguard of new ideas and are addressing real-world problems.

Research infrastructure creates jobs, and discoveries often lead to the creation of companies. Research that emerged from labs at CSU and CU has led to the creation of about 200 companies between us in the past 20 years.

Our universities attract the best and brightest students from our state and beyond. We provide a high-quality education at an efficient cost, all while ensuring access to all qualified Coloradans. Our graduate programs provide students with advanced knowledge and specialized skills. Our students get to work in research laboratories and classrooms alongside some of the top scientists in the world. For example, a CU aerospace students used their experiences to pitch the idea to NASA for a mission to Pluto that became the successful New Horizons spacecraft, which sent images of the dwarf planet across three billion miles of space back to Boulder. CSU students at the Infectious Disease Research Center work alongside faculty scientists to develop better diagnostic tools and vaccines for diseases ranging from tuberculosis to West Nile Virus.

Perhaps most important, our universities are woven into the fabric of our state. CSU was founded in 1870 and CU in 1876, the year Colorado became a state. We are firm believers in our public mission and understand that serving our state is our primary imperative. We do so not only by educating students, but also by fostering partnerships with business, government and the nonprofit sector to leverage our collective activities and make Colorado a better place. We also have a presence in virtually every community in Colorado through our outreach programs.

We're proud of our role in our great state, and we look forward to continuing our contributions to ensuring Colorado's competitiveness.

That way, no matter what happens tonight, we all win.

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Dr. Tony Frank is president of Colorado State University. Bruce D. Benson is president of the University of Colorado.

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