Celebrating Our 50th Year and Working Together Toward a Strong Future

January 11, 2023

Dear CU Denver faculty and staff,

Less than a month ago, more than 1,300 CU Denver students took a momentous step forward as they celebrated their graduation. Our newest graduates come from every corner of Colorado, 30 states, and 11 countries. Their different backgrounds and life experiences, as well as their varied dreams and ambitions inform who they are and the impact they seek to make. An incredible 44% of them represented the first generation in their families to receive a degree. Collectively, our graduates included working learners, DACA students, parents, active military or veterans, and students returning to college to enrich their careers or jumpstart new ones. Now, these Lynx are going on to enrich their workplaces and communities by carrying their knowledge, their skills, and their CU Denver values forward.

Commencement is a powerful, biannual reminder of the impact we make when we work together to support the success of our students. This mission-driven work in service of helping our students achieve their dreams anchors so much of what we do as a university. And it’s an imperative that couldn’t be more important as CU Denver celebrates a major milestone of its own.

Today, we mark our 50th anniversary. On this date in 1973, an amendment to the Colorado Constitution first designated CU Denver an independent campus. But the origins of higher education at CU Denver actually date back to the early 20th century, with our university serving as an extension center of the University of Colorado to meet the needs of Denver’s growing population. We housed our classes in a single building on the downtown side of Speer Blvd, in what is now Hotel Teatro. Fast forward from those humble beginnings, and today we educate nearly 15,000 students and deliver 114 degree programs on a campus that stretches from the Auraria Campus to the heart of downtown Denver. We annually generate nearly $800 million in statewide economic impact. And central to our role as Colorado’s only public urban research university, we offer leading programs across seven schools and colleges at the bachelor's, master’s, and doctoral levels.

Who we educate and how we educate has and must still evolve alongside a changing society—meeting learners’ needs across their lifespan and matching the programs we offer to the knowledge and talent our communities, organizations, and industries need to thrive. CU Denver’s incredible progress and impact over the last five decades has been possible because we have consistently worked together in service of our students and their success. But you don’t get to be 50 years old without facing and overcoming some significant challenges.

Even as we celebrate this milestone today, we face new challenges—many of them increasingly complex. These include the shifting financial realities of operating in today’s world, persistent gaps in student success, the need to work closer with industry and external partners, and others. Working together within the larger contexts of education, scholarship, and community engagement, we will continue to overcome these challenges, just as we have for the last 50 years. And we will focus on seizing opportunity to make education work for all. That is our path forward.

Thinking about the possibilities ahead for CU Denver’s next 50 years, it’s clear that our most important work is happening right here, right now. And as we welcome our students back to campus for a new semester, it’s easy to see why this work is so important. We have positioned ourselves for and will continue to work toward a future that can be as bright and bold as our imaginations—all in service of our students, within each of whom there is a potential graduate anxious to chase their dreams.

Lastly, I want to note that, as we celebrate this milestone today, we also celebrate you. Each of you is an important contributor to the university’s past, present, and future. So thank you for everything you continue to do for CU Denver. And I look forward to working with all of you to support this institution we all love in the years ahead and ensure the success of generations of Lynx to come.

Michelle Mark signature

Michelle Marks

Chancellor’s Office

CU Denver

Lawrence Street Center

1380 Lawrence Street

Suite 1400

Denver, CO 80204


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