Chancellor Don Elliman and Executive Vice Chancellor Lilly Marks spoke about the university's accomplishments over the past year and new developments on both campuses. The chancellor addressed the Denver Campus in the morning, and both administrators addressed the Anschutz Medical Campus in the afternoon. All CU faculty, staff and students were invited to attend, and an audience Q&A followed each address.
Speech Transcript: State of the Denver Campus – October 30, 2013
Good morning, and welcome.
Thank you all for coming today, and I’d like to specifically acknowledge Regent Steve Bosley for joining us this morning. The Board of Regents commit huge amounts of time and energy in their roles. We thank them, and specifically Steve, for all they do for the University of Colorado.
The state of the university campus is a broad topic, but I'll try to keep my remarks brief. After all, it's said that most speakers need no introduction. What they need is a conclusion.
One year ago, I stood before you as the new chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver and the Anschutz Medical Campus. I will focus my remarks today primarily on the Denver Campus, but make no mistake that I believe the consolidation of the two campuses into a single university is a reality and one that can offer benefits to both entities. I am proud to have the responsibility of oversight for both.
I talked last year about my perspective as a relative outsider to academia, and what I saw as our assets, our challenges and opportunities. And I talked about the core reason we’re all here, which is to foster the success of our students.
While I’ve gained a much more in-depth understanding of our great university since then, nothing has happened in the past 12 months to change my assessment of CU Denver and its potential to materially change our students’ lives for the better. The faculty and staff members with whom I have worked, the students I have talked with, and the community members who have welcomed me to this campus have only reinforced my belief in CU Denver. I thank you for all you have done and look forward to what we can accomplish in the future.
Today I’d like to talk about the climate in which we’re operating, how we’re working to remain competitive in this new environment, and how you can help. I’ll be sure to leave plenty of time for questions at the end.
I think it’s fitting that as we observe the 40th anniversary of the Denver Campus this year, we welcomed our largest and most diverse freshman class ever. But today’s students have different needs—and different demands—from their college experience than their predecessors did. I would suggest they're very different.
For CU Denver to succeed in the climate of shifting student demographics, increased competition among universities for a shrinking pool of students, and a student expectation and demand for a 24/7 learning access—and to do so within a challenging funding environment—we will need to be adaptive, responsive and relentlessly innovative.
Historically, students have competed for acceptance into institutions of higher education. They still do. But what has changed, and especially for the better students, is the degree to which those same institutions now compete for them.
We need to change our mindset, from one of making decisions and offering services based on what’s most convenient for us to one in which we put students’ needs first. I know that’s a generalization, and I also recognize that considering student needs is already well in our culture, but the bar has been raised and continues to go upward. We need to respond. If we don’t, our students will seek—and they will find—alternatives.
I should be clear here that I am not talking about sacrificing academic rigor or quality. I am talking about adapting the delivery of that quality and rigor to focus on the needs of our customers: our students.
Large institutions like ours aren’t generally known for their ability to quickly adapt. And, as the saying goes, the only person who likes change is a wet baby. But we are, by nature, thinkers (and, here especially, doers), capable of continuous innovation—and that is going to be critical to our success.
Innovation and change are what fuel progress, so I’d like to talk about some of our progress in the five campus-wide priority areas I identified last year:
- Harnessing technology to our best advantage
- Developing new programs
- Increasing awareness of CU Denver
- Growing our enrollment and addressing other aspects of our financial situation
- And, most importantly, fostering student success.
The first is how we’re coping with changes in technology, which, as we discussed last year, are having a profound effect on higher education.
A year and a half ago, we convened the Technology Review Committee to evaluate the university’s current IT practices and governance. This committee was intentionally made up of people who use IT—faculty, staff and students appointed by each school, college and administrative unit—so we can begin shifting our focus toward improving users’ experiences. Based on the committee’s recommendations, we have begun implementing a number of changes.
First, we have brought all the previously disparate units that work on IT—Academic Technology and Extended Learning (or ATEL), Educational Technology Services (or ETS), and Information Technology Services (ITS)—into one organization. Combining the 150 people in these units gives them the chance to share common technologies, leverage resources and pull in the same direction.
Second, the committee recommended that we create a new IT governance structure, again composed of a wide range of users, to identify strategic priorities for IT campus-wide. This new group, more than a hundred people in all, started meeting last month.
Starting from the users’ needs represents a significant departure in the way we do business—but it is absolutely the right thing to do.
Combining departments and creating new governance isn’t easy, and the road isn’t always smooth. We are fortunate to have Russ Poole leading this effort, with a lot of help from Regina Kilkenny and many others.
A different committee under the leadership of Rebecca Kantor and David Goff convened last year to look at how we’re meeting the demand for online and hybrid programs. Its conclusion, issued in May, was that we are, in fact, not meeting those demands—and we’re losing students because of it.
It’s clear that in today’s world, students are seeking enrollment and curriculum flexibility, mixed delivery modalities, more customization of their degrees and the ability to enter and exit from programs fluidly. We were an early leader in online education, but the organic and piecemeal growth of our online programs has led us to lose that edge to our competitors.
Our online committee is now working out the logistics of substantially growing our online offerings—in terms of managing cost and meeting market demand. It is reviewing plans this month to get more courses and programs online starting next fall.
And this winter, we’re launching the first-ever “MOOC”—massive open online course—to be offered on either of our campuses. The course, in Global Energy Management, will be open to anyone in the world, and for free. Participants will not receive CU Denver credit, but they will gain valuable insight into the business side of the energy field. Besides providing a valuable community educational resource, this MOOC will broaden CU Denver’s exposure worldwide, and add to our expertise in online offerings.
The next area of campus-wide focus is developing programs that are relevant and that leverage our assets. We have a tremendous advantage in being an urban campus located in the heart of the most vibrant city in the Rocky Mountain region. We have to build on that advantage.
Here are some examples of new programs that are clearly meeting market demand.
- In the College of Architecture and Planning, nearly 100 new students are enrolled in the new BS in Architecture program this fall.
- The School of Public Affairs now offers its BA in criminal justice degree online, which is helping to meet the needs of its busy, working student body. Enrollment in the program is up 40 percent over last year.
- The College of Engineering and Applied Science is developing a master’s of construction management, slated to begin enrolling students next fall.
- The School of Education and Human Development is developing our first-ever bachelor’s programs in education, set to start up in January, combining cutting-edge research with real classroom experiences in CU Denver's partner schools. Program tracks within the Teaching, Learning and Development bachelor’s degree include early childhood, elementary and special education.
- The College of Arts & Media has developed a new program in illustration, the only such program available at a public university in the area. Enrollment in the new program, which started just this semester, is 30 students, about double the number expected.
- At the Business School, the opening of the new Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship this year and the J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities last year are great examples of how we’re cultivating philanthropic connections to provide our students with unique, relevant programming.
- The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recently established the Learning Enhancement Taskforce to rethink the design of an undergraduate education at CU Denver to increase learning, retention and student success. CLAS is beginning efforts to refocus its curriculum on “Essential Learning Outcomes,” including inquiry and analysis, creative and critical thinking, written and oral communication, quantitative and information literacy, and intercultural knowledge and competence.
- And last but by no means least, the Graduate School just two months ago received a competitive $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, which supports 12 highly qualified under-represented minority PhD students in the STEM disciplines.
I’d also like to say a few words about the depth and breadth of our research and creative work, which is impressive. We try to recognize these activities in our research news updates but here are just a few recent examples:
- Our bioengineers, led by Robin Shandas in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, are working on prosthetic hand control and actuation.
- Professor Yang in Business received an award for a paper on IPO pricing in China.
- Phil Strain and his colleagues in the School of Education and Human Development continue to lead a nationally prominent project on autism.
- Physicist Martin Huber was recognized with a Fulbright Award to continue his work on dark matter.
- And Greg Walker, musician in the College of Arts and Media, performed a world premiere piece in Washington, D.C.
Our faculty write books galore; Tom Noel has a new book on the history of healthcare in Colorado and Ann Komara in the College of Architecture and Planning won an award for her book on Skyline Park. Our range is so broad it includes studies by faculty in the School of Public Affairs on weapon-related crimes, along with studies by Charles Musiba in Anthropology of human origins in Tanzania, and even a study of whether or not “sugar daddies” and “cougars” are more myth than reality, from, of all places, our Economics Department. I was particularly struck by the last study since I was an economics major, and economics seems to be more fun now than in my day.
These are just a few among hundreds of examples of exciting research going on at CU Denver. I’ll speak more later on how we’re planning to better support these efforts going forward.
Last year I talked, rather pointedly, about the need to clearly define and market the CU Denver brand.
I am pleased to report, and hope by now you’ve already seen evidence of, our brand-new identity and advertising campaign—the first in school history to put us on TV.
Our communications team developed the groundbreaking Learn with Purpose campaign over the past year, incorporating insights and perspective from hundreds of CU Denver students, faculty, staff, alumni and business and community leaders. Leanna Clark and her team did a great job.
The campaign defines the essence of CU Denver: quality academics, driven students, amazing research and creative work, and a civic consciousness, all in the heart of the city.
The campaign is a lot of fun, but it’s also very strategic—aimed at raising awareness and understanding of the university throughout Denver. We will gauge the campaign’s impact at its conclusion by measuring message penetration among our target audiences. Meanwhile, we’ve had students and alumni tell us how much they like it, and how it’s making them proud of their association with CU Denver.
We are deservedly proud of what you have built at CU Denver. It’s about damned time we told that story.
A perennial issue for us is the need to keep innovating to address our financial realities. This is nothing new for us, or for many universities. In the 1980s, the president of Brown University told its trustees, "Brown has long been an institution that does more with less. Well, I'm here to tell you that we're out of less."
Here on this campus, reduced state funding and doing more with less have long been our modus operandae. But today, working to expand and diversify our funding streams is more essential than ever.
Our financial situation is first and foremost dependent on student tuition. As a result, enrollment management is a major piece of our financial strategy. But we have to recognize that tuition rate increases at recent levels are unsustainable, period. So what do we do? If you can’t continue to raise prices and you need to grow your revenue, you’d better look to volume.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Raul Cardenas has been leading our efforts this past year to increase undergraduate enrollment, including working with a student-recruitment marketing firm, and those efforts are already paying off. This year we have nearly 1,200 new freshmen, our much-touted largest freshman class ever, up 16 percent from last year. We have more out-of-state and international students than ever before, which helps with our revenue targets while adding to diversity of perspectives.
The ethnic diversity of our student body is also at an all-time high this year, something we’re very excited about. After more than a decade of steady increases, students of color now represent 30 percent of all our students, 36 percent of our undergraduates, and a full 49 percent of new freshmen.
I’d like to commend Brenda Allen, our associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, for her work on fostering a welcoming climate, so we can prepare all our students to live and work in a diverse world. A key piece of this is changing the face of our faculty to more closely mirror that of our student body. I’d like to encourage anyone who has an idea for a project aimed at increasing retention of faculty of color to talk to Brenda.
But there is more to our revenue potential than tuition. Last year I suggested setting our sights on a goal of $20 million per year from philanthropy. Well, we came close, with our biggest fundraising year yet on the Denver Campus: $18 million—including the largest single gift in CU Denver history, $10 million to establish the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship.
I’d like to see us build on this momentum to achieve even better results for the Denver Campus. With the transition of the CU Foundation fundraising efforts to the university this summer, I believe we’re on the right track to do this. Matt Wasserman and his staff in the Office of Development have now met with every school and college to work on specific development goals, in addition to their campus-wide efforts, and I know with our support his team can be even more effective.
We’ve been looking at ways to increase research funding to the Denver Campus, particularly with the challenges to many of our federal grantor organizations from government sequestration. This month Bob Damrauer agreed to become Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, with major responsibilities to the Denver Campus. He’ll work to increase the types and amounts of research grants on this campus, as well as make sure we value and support the many creative, active researchers who don’t necessarily generate the big research dollars but enrich the university in other ways.
All of this leads us to our last area of focus and, as I’ve pointed out before, the primary reason we’re all here: to foster student success and degree completion.
It’s no secret that our graduation and persistence rates are not where we want them to be. This is arguably the one of the single biggest challenges we face as a university campus.
High attrition is not cost-effective. Recruiting and orienting new students is costly. But more to the point, improving retention and graduation rates is grounded in our most deeply held values.
Adlai Stevenson, a name perhaps at least a few of you remember, once said something that I think sums up the core of CU Denver’s mission: “We do not follow in America the jungle doctrine of the survival of the so-called fittest. We follow, rather, the doctrine of fitting as many as possible for survival.”
In choosing careers in higher education, and choosing to work at CU Denver, we have committed ourselves to enabling our students to learn, and to “fitting as many as possible for survival.” Research and public service are both critical to our future, but our educational programs are the true reason we exist.
Last year I talked about our commitment to building a comprehensive, cohesive strategy on how we approach the continuum of student success. I’m happy to report that we are making significant progress on this front.
We began with the data. Last year we hired CU Denver’s first-ever director of analytics for enrollment and retention. Carrie John and her colleagues in student affairs have been analyzing data related to the entire life cycle of a CU Denver student, from recruitment and enrollment to graduation and afterward.
They’ve recently begun a “service blueprinting process,” looking at all of our student services from the students’ point of view and evaluating the student experience from end-to-end. For example, if it takes a student 18 clicks on the Web to get an ID card, we clearly need to do some streamlining. Through this process, they will identify what’s working well, in addition to “pain points” along the way that complicate or diminish the student experience and make it less likely that the student will persist to obtain a degree.
Here are some other things we’re doing.
- To help students get off to a good start with us, we’ve made the summer orientation mandatory for all new freshmen; instituted a new, separate parent orientation; and stepped up our game at new-student convocation.
- A CU Denver student today will visit a minimum of seven offices in four buildings just to complete the basic paperwork of registering for school. This is not a recipe for success. But starting next fall, when the new academic building opens, we will have a brand new space dedicated to providing our students “one-stop shopping” for the services they need, from financial aid to advising.
- We’ve restructured the Student Affairs division so it can better work with students from recruitment through graduation and beyond. At the early end of this spectrum, we’ve added new positions in K-12 outreach, as well as in parent and student engagement.
- To make it easier for students already enrolled with us to track their progress online toward completing their degree requirements, we are working to improve the Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS). We have also allocated resources for the Registrar’s Office to work with all schools and colleges and to update the catalog to ensure that degree requirement information is kept current, consistent and easy to find.
- We’re working to better support our transfer students, and to make it easier for them to determine how their credits transfer.
- The advising task force has been meeting since last year to work on improving and streamlining our academic advising, including the possibility of standardizing advising on a single electronic system so that students moving between majors and colleges can do so seamlessly.
- Finally, we’re developing more events and programming to engage students and create more campus community, like the growth of extra-curricular clubs in general and club sports in particular. Milo the CU Denver lynx is showing up all around campus, and his popularity is amazing.
As we implement all of these changes, we will continually review the data to assess what’s working and what isn’t, and adjust our strategies accordingly.
Let me go back to something I said at the outset. Institutions, especially institutions of higher education, historically have had a tendency toward an inward focus. Our job has been to teach, and it has been up to the student to learn. That formula will not compete in today’s world. We have to figure out how to be more connected to student learning—including making the process easier to access, more flexible, and beyond that, more supportive. If we don’t, I can assure you our competitors will.
Each of us, no matter what our role, is here to help our students persist and graduate. I’m grateful for your continued efforts to meet the educational needs of our students. What I am asking for is your help in continuing to find ways to do more, even if changing isn’t always easy or comfortable.
I’ve just spent the better part of a half hour talking to you about the state of the university. It is strong and, with our collective efforts, bound to get stronger. But as the journalist Edward R. Morrow said, “Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.” I may have the podium today. I certainly don’t have all the ideas.
I invite your ideas on ways we can innovate and meet the challenges created to our educational, research and service missions in this ever-changing environment. Please send your ideas to CUDenverfirstname.lastname@example.org
Push us, but please, push us constructively. Beyond just telling us there is a problem, help us think of solutions. I promise we will listen.
One last comment. This isn’t my university. Many of you have put far more time, effort, intellect and knowledge into making CU Denver what it is today than I ever will. This is our university and, in reality, this is your university. To all of our hard-working, dedicated and inspired administrators, faculty and staff, each and every one of you, thank you.
I said at the beginning of this address that the key to remaining competitive in the “new normal” of higher education will be remaining innovative. We’re making a lot of changes, from student services to online learning to research operations to philanthropy and outreach. And while change is difficult, to not change would be fatal.
We are an urban research university. A very good one. Let’s work together to be even better.
I’d like to close with a brief video of CU Denver students and faculty describing how they’re learning with purpose at CU Denver, and then I’ll be happy to take any questions you might have.