Growing pains seem to have wedged the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs into an undesirable position, but the head of the school says the campus is working as fast as it can to play catch up.

The public university atop Austin Bluffs turns 50 next year, and after long being viewed as the stepchild of the CU system, next to big-league Boulder and the Aurora medical center, the local branch is coming into its own.

But its popularity has a downside.

At least 300 potential incoming freshmen are attending college elsewhere this fall because UCCS does not have enough on-campus dorm rooms, Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak said last week.

It's not the first time it's happened, but it is the largest number of students lost to the university's persistent housing shortage.

"It's the first time it's been this bad," Shockley-Zalabak said. "Last year we had about 70." In 2011, 90 students were left on a waiting list as school began.

The situation comes even after an $18 million expansion of the school's Summit Village housing complex, which caters to freshmen students. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Aug. 5 for the completion of two new towers, which added 192 freshmen beds to the existing 632 in Summit. Another 303 residential on-campus beds are in Alpine Village.

Some interested freshmen who applied for housing but were denied could have opted to live off campus in a complex of 148 apartments that the university leases on North Nevada Avenue. But Shockley-Zalabak said many parents don't want that kind of living arrangement for teens who are just leaving the nest.

"Parents are afraid, and I can understand that," she said, "even though we provide the same support they'd receive in a housing village, with RAs (resident assistants), security and shuttle buses."

Shockley-Zalabak expects another record to be shattered when school starts Aug. 26. Projections are that 10,500 students will show up for classes - the most ever.

"We've never been over 10,000," Shockley-Zalabak said.

Of those, about 1,600 will be new freshmen - another historic high.

One year ago, 9,850 on-campus students were enrolled, a 6 percent increase over 2011. Of those 1,457 were freshmen, an 8 percent increase from 2011.

What started as a small commuter campus, with the first dorms opening in 1997, UCCS now has students from every Colorado county, all 50 states and 40 countries, Shockley-Zalabak said.

The largest student population still hails from El Paso County, she said. The fastest growing market from which students are being culled is Denver.

An additional 510 on-campus beds are part of the university's long-range plans, but they can't be built until a 1,227-stall underground parking garage (with artificial soccer fields on top of it) is finished next March, Shockley-Zalabak said. Doubling the size of its 5-year-old recreation center is next, opening in 2015. That would make extra dorms available in 2015-2016, if all goes according to plan.

CU's board of regents designated UCCS as its growth campus in 2000, and it's been remodeling, revamping and adding facilities, academic and athletic programs, and research institutes ever since - despite decreased state funding.

"We're pushing a $200 million all-funds budget this year," Shockley-Zalabak said, "and we'll get 8 cents of every dollar (in state funding). We have to provide 92 cents on our own. We can do that if we produce high-quality students and attract people from all over. Our rankings in programs and students remain strong - our undergraduate engineering is seventh in the nation among public schools."

Long-range plans call for $100 million in construction projects extending the campus to the west, with a health and wellness village, a visual and performing arts complex, and a sports medicine and performance center.

The latter is part of a Regional Tourism Act grant application the city of Colorado Springs has submitted to the state to attract medical tourism.

"We're in heavy-duty planning stages. We're talking to people about public-private partnerships and leveraging existing Colorado Springs strengths. But we're not designing the building because I can't see my way clear to pay for it yet," Shockley-Zalabak said. "The grant would be a tremendous accelerator."