University of Colorado President Bruce Benson is confident solutions can be found to fix the state’s higher-education funding crisis, but it will take a piecemeal approach that relies on entrepreneurial ideas.
Benson spoke at a Town Hall meeting in the Terrace Room this afternoon. The Denver Campus visit follows similar town halls held at the other CU campuses recently. He spoke at the Anschutz Medical Campus on April 12.
Benson highlighted the many positives occurring on the Denver Campus, including enrollment growth during the campus’s 40-year history. He pointed out that the campus in 1973 had 7,000 students, 295 faculty members and 50 degree programs. Today, the campus boasts 14,000 students, 1,500 faculty and 134 degree programs.
“The thing I don’t think people really know much about — and I want to see a bigger issue made out of this — is how much online enrollment you have,” he said. “… I’d say this campus is ahead of everyone in the state of Colorado as far as doing online education.”
He praised the Denver Campus’s first-ever comprehensive marketing plan, saying, “It’s great to have this campus being celebrated the way it is now.” He cited developments that include the ground breaking of the new academic building, growth of the Business School, the recent Diversity Summit, as well as the success of Boots to Suits and the launch of the new mascot. “I got to know Milo today,” Benson said.
He said CU is working to build up international student enrollment, increase endowments and more widely tell the story of how the university impacts the state economy. He encouraged everyone to help in the latter effort by signing up for CU Advocates.
Benson noted that the budget picture continues to be a challenge, with the state possibly running out of funding for public higher education in the next decade.
Also worrisome is Lobato v. Colorado, a lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding system. A ruling is pending from the State Supreme Court. If the decision comes out as a 3-3 tie (one justice has recused herself), “that means the state government has got to come up with a few billion dollars (more) to fund K-12 education. This is a very, very serious problem,” Benson said.
The myriad funding problems confronting higher education won’t be solved by one method, such as a tax increase, which would require voter approval, he said. “We’re going to continue to look hard to find other solutions to fund the University of Colorado — it won’t be one thing. … We’ve got to put together a piecemeal (approach), but you know if you’re an entrepreneur you keep looking at ideas and you keep coming up with ideas on how you can make this work.”
He summed up by saying, “I feel really great about the university, with exception to the funding. We’re working on all kinds of different programs to make sure it works. We’re going to keep ourselves whole and we’re going to continue to find ways to fund it.”
Benson said he continues to be awed by the quality of faculty and staff who work for the university. “It’s people who work hard and care about this institution — that’s what we have here.”
(Photo: President Bruce Benson meets CU Denver’s new mascot, Milo the Lynx.)