CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell

The collective voice of hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni and other CU Denver stakeholders delivered a resounding message to Chancellor Dorothy Horrell during her Reach Out and Listen Tour earlier this year: For too long, CU Denver has been in the shadows. Now is our time to shine as one of Denver’s exceptional assets.

Driving the university to that preeminent stature in our world-class city will be a redoubled commitment to student success – the university’s highest priority, the chancellor said. Her comments came at Monday’s Campus Forum: From Listening to Action, which drew large audiences at both morning and afternoon sessions.

CU Denver Campus Forum crowd
A large crowd turned out for Chancellor Dorothy Horrell’s Campus Forum at the Student Commons Building on Sept. 26.

Horrell said the “loud-and-clear” message of the listening tour, which collected more than 5,000 comments and suggestions, “is that this community is willing and ready to roll up its sleeves and work to make CU Denver all it can be.”

‘Poised to make our mark’

The work will be significant.

As Colorado’s only public urban research university, she said, our university encompasses standout diversity, entrepreneurial and civic-minded service, stellar research and creative activities, and high-quality academic programs that transform lives and the community. Those four elements – public, urban, research and creative activities, and university – define and embolden CU Denver for even greater impact.

Horrell pledged that by 2023, CU Denver will be one of the city’s top five civic, cultural and economic assets. “I believe this is our time,” she said. “Now is when CU Denver is poised to make its mark and secure its place as an undisputed asset – in the CU System, the city of Denver, the state of Colorado and beyond.”

Horrell emphasized that the pathways to achieving this ambition exist within a few priorities:

  • Elevate student success.
  • Strengthen our position as a vital community asset.
  • Advance excellence and innovation in teaching, research and creative work.
  • Create a more cohesive, collaborative and inclusive CU Denver culture.
  • Achieve long-term financial stability and sustainability.

In the coming months, CU Denver will move forward with next steps, weaving these priorities and the recommendations of recently-convened working groups with Board of Regent metrics and a refreshed strategic plan. “We are up to the task,” Horrell said.

Opportunities and challenges

While opportunities abound in each priority, providing the necessary resources to foster success remains a challenge. Horrell spoke frankly about the the tuition-dependent nature of the university; 80 percent of the general fund budget comes from tuition and fees. Helping the financial picture is the fact that CU Denver has set freshman-class records each of the past four years.

Linda, Dorothy and Allie at CU Denver Campus Forum
CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell stands with CU Regent Linda Shoemaker, left, and CU Denver alumna Allie Kriese, right, after the Campus Forum.

However, she said, CU Denver’s undergraduate retention rate (last year 68 percent of freshmen returned) and six-year graduation rate (40 percent to 46 percent over the last five years) require improvement. “Our goal is to improve to a 75 percent freshman retention rate and a 50 percent six-year graduation rate by 2020,” she said.

Steps are already being taken toward this end. The Student Services team launched Starfish student success and retention software this semester, the chancellor said, and a deep dive into student success and retention will take place at the Undergraduate Experiences Symposium, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct 7 in the Student Commons Building.

Key areas of student recruitment and success were intensely studied by four working groups this summer. The groups, encompassing a cross-section of schools and colleges as well as academic service units, generated ideas on how to improve academic advising, the K-12 pipeline, community college pathways and strategic use of scholarship resources.

The groups delivered their action recommendations two weeks ago, and Horrell said several of the easily-implemented ideas will go into effect immediately. “They have developed bold, ambitious and boundary-busting plans to create new value for our current and prospective students, while simultaneously reducing the complexity of making that happen,” she said. “These plans are not going to sit on the shelf.”

Horrell said some other group recommendations cover philosophical and more expensive areas – such as whether to centralize, decentralize or offer hybrid student services – and require input from deans, faculty and other campus leadership before implementation.

‘Silos belong on farms’

Creating a culture of collaboration, cohesiveness and inclusion is essential to breaking down barriers, according to the chancellor. She humorously invoked her rural upbringing in northeast Colorado when addressing the problem of silos: “I speak with some authority when I say that silos belong on farms, not in universities.”

Noting that improving student success requires holistic and individual approaches, Horrell stressed that it is incumbent for everyone at CU Denver to not only do a better job of attracting students, but “delivering the ideal student experience” while they are here. “This is a cultural shift,” she said, “from treating students as if graduating is their responsibility to our sharing collective responsibility for their graduation.”

Underscoring the message of student success was a captivating video that features several CU Denver upperclassmen, a graduate student and an alumnus who express what they love about our university.

Fielding questions

CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell
CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell answers a question during the Campus Forum in the Student Commons Building on Sept. 26.

After the video, the chancellor fielded numerous questions at both sessions. On the matter of diverse faculty recruitment, Horrell said she was pleased to see the strong diversity represented at welcoming events for new faculty this fall. “Are we where we need to be? Absolutely not, but that will be something that we continue to focus on.”

Regarding CU Denver’s long-established connection to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, Horrell said the consolidation has created benefits through joint programs, student pipelines and administrative efficiencies. However, she said, it’s been noticed by the Board of Regents and CU President Bruce Benson that CU Denver has sometimes “been lost a little in the shuffle” and that the resource picture at each institution is very different. “We’ve been encouraged to look at how we live within that, and at the same time do what we need to do to make CU Denver as strong and as distinctive as it can possibly be.”

Concerned about how the priorities came about for student retention and recruitment, a faculty member asked if academic units had been tapped sufficiently to utilize faculty expertise. Horrell said that the ideas – and subsequent priorities – all came from the ground up, through her dialogues with more than 1,000 stakeholders.

Video of Campus Forum

You can watch the complete Campus Forum here.

“I agree that the faculty are absolutely critical in this,” she said. “In each of the priority and actions areas we will engage very deeply with all of the campus constituents and ask for action steps, ask for people who are accountable, and ask what the metrics will be that we will need to hold ourselves to.”

Also at the morning session, Jason Robinson, who heads up K-12 outreach, asked if a once-used tagline – “CU in the City” – could possibly re-enter the conversation at CU Denver.

Horrell said university leadership, in collaboration with University Communications, is looking into combining “CU in the City” with CU Denver’s successful “Learn with Purpose” branding. She said the university is essentially both: CU in the City where students Learn with Purpose.

“I think it really underscores what it is that I articulated as our ambition: That we will be one of the city of Denver’s indisputable assets,” she said. “We will be seen that way, and we will have a seat at the table.”

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