Updates on major initiatives that have engaged large swaths of the CU Denver community – a new budget model, the Student Success Partnership and the facilities master plan, to name a few – filled a mostly positive-news Campus Conversation on Oct. 30.
About 75 people nibbled on pre-Halloween, pre-Broncos (not much positive news there) cookies in the Terrace Room and heard reports on university news from Chancellor Dorothy Horrell, Provost Roderick Nairn and Jennifer Sobanet, chief financial officer and vice chancellor for Administration and Finance.
Chancellor Horrell noted that she recently returned from the annual Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Leadership Exchange trip, which for the first time went abroad. About 140 Denver-area leaders traveled to Munich to learn about Germany’s pioneering development of apprenticeship training programs.
Priorities, ‘big bets’ and Dr. Traystman
The chancellor addressed various initiatives underway here at CU Denver:
- The evaluation of dual-campus efficiencies and enhancements, as explained in the Oct. 10 Chancellors’ Communique. Two years ago, Horrell said, our university made the strategic decision to appoint separate chancellors for the CU Denver and CU Anschutz campuses. She and CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman have noted that great efficiencies exist in many areas where the campuses are sharing services, Horrell said, “but there are some areas that need to be looked at – i.e. do they need to be organized a bit differently in terms of focus and structure.” The university will work with Huron Consulting to identify the “best recommendations possible to assure that the campuses maintain their momentum and have what they need to continue to be successful,” she said.
- The chancellor and her leadership team established five strategic priorities to guide university initiatives and efforts. Huron Consulting and the Education Advisory Board have encouraged the university to strive for “big bets” in each of the priorities. Horrell said the appointed “drivers” of each strategic priority, who are tasked with creating an actionable roadmap, are working on final versions of these big bets. Those plans are being synched to align with budget priorities “so that all of these efforts support each other and can move forward in unison,” the chancellor said.
- Horrell reflected on the exceptional contributions to the university from Richard J. Traystman, PhD, who recently passed away. “It’s a sad loss because Dick was an incredible professional and a great leader. He was a strong champion of CU Denver,” she said. A memorial service for Traystman, our former vice chancellor for research, will take place at 3 p.m. Nov. 7 at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
- CU Denver’s first stand-alone facilities Master Plan will go to the CU Board of Regents on Nov. 16 for review and approval. The initial phases of the plan include a request for a new Engineering building, CU Denver’s top academic facilities priority, as well as additional and improved student housing.
- Horrell applauded the success of recent campus events, including LynxFest and the 13th Annual Undergraduate Experiences Symposium. She also highlighted the new CU at the Table initiative, which, as described by Dan Gould, executive director, Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, has drawn 25 host families and 58 international student participants.
New budget model update
Sobanet reported that CU Denver’s new incentive-based budget model recently received approval from the steering committee and will launch with the new fiscal year, July 1, 2018. Sobanet said she is grateful that our leadership came together to support the model as it will help the university take a more holistic view of budgeting and move toward long-term financial sustainability. She said the steering committee has completed its task, and now the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Budget – with representation from the Faculty Assembly, school and college deans, and the Chancellor’s Cabinet – will continue the work of creating an annual budget.
Sobanet said the incentive-based model is a technical solution to financial stability. “What we really need is an adaptive solution, where our culture begins to look across the entire entity at new revenue sources, reallocation of our current resources and cost containments where they make sense.” She added that the university is essentially moving toward a new budgeting cadence that aligns its financial and human resources around its strategic priorities. Sobanet received applause when she closed her remarks: “I’m really looking forward to the next journey that we’ll be on together – to drive student success and our financial long-term sustainability.”
Efforts pay off in student success
Provost Nairn announced that, thanks to a large collaborative effort, the Student Success Collaborative (SSC) Campus software went live – on schedule – on Oct. 2. Thanks to the new tool and our university community embracing it, in just a few weeks more than 1,000 appointments were scheduled with about 30 advisors who are using the software at this time. Nairn said that while our advising professionals are just scratching the surface of the software’s functionality, “it’s beginning to pay off.”
In another student-retention effort, it was discovered that 262 students out of a particular cohort – students on track for six-year degree completion in 2020 – were not registered for fall 2017 classes. Nairn said a special team was tasked with reaching out to all of the students, resulting in all but 35 of the 262 being registered for the fall term.
Nairn said progress is also being made in efforts to deliver evidence-based, quality instruction to students. One particular effort, the Learning Assistant Program, has helped improve student performance in biology and chemistry courses, the provost said. “We’re beginning to see dramatic increases in pass rates in those classes.”
Question and answer
During the question-and-answer session, a student asked if the future on-campus student housing being planned will take affordability into consideration. Both Chancellor Horrell and Raul Cardenas, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said that affordability will be a high priority as the housing plan progresses and that student input has been and will continue to be part of the process.
Another student said he’s been discouraged by Colorado’s funding levels for both higher education and K-12. He asked if the university has a plan to work with the Legislature to increase future funding.
Sobanet explained that Colorado’s constitution is riddled with complex requirements that result in mandated increases to other budget areas. “It has led to a very long-term but kind of slow siphoning off of funding for higher education in our state,” she said. “It’s happened over about a 25-year period.”
Last year’s legislative session, she said, ended with the passage of the “hospital provider fee fix legislation,” which effectively gives lawmakers more room to allow growth in the state budget. She predicts that in the short term, as long as Colorado’s economy remains robust, higher-education funding should stabilize or possibly even go up.
Sobanet said the bigger, long-term issue centers around the culture of the state’s conversation on higher education: Do Coloradans consider higher education a public good or a private good? “Until we change the conversation regarding how we view higher education and its importance to the state’s economic growth, vitality and quality of life – I’d say we’re a ways from any broad legislative fix to this problem.”