Increased competition for enrollment, the public’s perception of higher education and affordability were key topics of the University of Colorado system’s Board of Regents meetings Thursday on the second day of its retreat in Tabernash.
Regents, vice presidents and chancellors all gathered to talk about CU’s strengths and weaknesses, the most critical issues the university faces, and its financial future.
To break up the information heavy presentations, the university leaders presented their favorite T-shirts (except for a few who aren’t “T-shirt people” and subbed the shirts out for other items).
Strengths and weaknesses
In the morning, regents and university leaders split into groups to tackle three exercises: create a news report on the health of the university; name five critical issues to address in the next year; and list CU’s strengths and weaknesses.
Several themes emerged from the groups of regents, chancellors and system vice presidents. Most groups noted recent record growth in enrollment, as well as growth in research funding, donations and satisfied alumni.
“We’re playing in a flat market and doing pretty well,” said University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Don Elliman, referring to CU’s place in the broader field of higher education. “Our record of the last year has laid the foundation for an incredible future.”
The four groups thought of similar critical issues the university needs to address such as state funding, creating a strategic plan, affordability, increasing diversity and creating a plan to deal with technological disruptions.
“I also think there’s an ecosystem for higher education in Colorado that we at CU should be leading,” said Regent Linda Shoemaker, D-Boulder.
For the final exercise, many of the strengths and weaknesses were echoes of earlier conversations. Common strengths included faculty, fundraising efforts, research and location.
Weaknesses included lack of clear definitions for the roles of the campuses versus the system, cost of attendance, the working relationship of the Board of Regents and higher education funding.
Vice President for Administration Kathy Nesbitt also brought up the perception that underrepresented minorities have of the university.
“There is a perception that they are not welcome,” she said. “We can do a much better job.”
Jack Finlaw, president of the CU Foundation, agreed, saying CU isn’t seen as “culturally safe” for many.
Two types of diversity
Nesbitt later gave a presentation for the diversity taskforce.
The group was tasked with both tackling an issue of “traditional diversity” and viewpoint diversity.
Nesbitt said that, after listening to stakeholders, they chose to focus on gender pay equity for faculty. They may add a satisfaction question for female employees on the upcoming climate survey.
“We know that several of the other universities have experienced some risk and lawsuits as it pertains to pay equity,” she said.
While they would ultimately want to address pay equity in all aspects of the university, “one of the things that we’re going to have to wrestle with is the size of our organization,” she said, which is why they chose to focus on faculty first.
The taskforce is considering using a vendor to help with the process.
Regent Heidi Ganahl, R-at large, who is part of the taskforce, said they are looking at one firm that uses software to analyze hiring practices and satisfaction, among other things.
For viewpoint diversity, Nesbitt said they want to add questions about respect to the climate survey.
From there, she said they “need to do more work in identifying and agreeing on what to do in that area,” whether it be creating programs like the Benson Center of Western Civilization or attaching financial incentives to encourage faculty to teach different types of courses.
President Mark Kennedy said the two issues are critical. Minorities and Pell Grant recipients are increasingly the source of student growth, so the university needs to make sure it is welcoming to those students. Most students will also one day be in a career that has yet to be created. Those students will need to develop critical thinking skills more than anything, which means they need to be exposed to varied schools of thought, he said.
Kennedy plans to add a chief diversity officer at the system level, though some regents suggested changing the name because people may not realize that “diversity” includes viewpoint diversity as well.
After a short recognition ceremony that followed lunch, university leaders talked about the system’s other metrics: affordability, student success, fiscal sustainability, and reputation and impact.
University of Colorado Boulder’s goal for institutional financial aid is to reach $190.4 million by 2023, said Chancellor Phil DiStefano. In 2017-2018, the university awarded $152.7 million in aid.
The largest affordability challenges, DiStefano said, are balancing affordability with infrastructure needs; recruitment from out-of-state institutions; and increases in need-based enrollment which require increases in support programs.
Several chancellors talked about out-of-state recruiters, who are attracted to Colorado because the rate of high school graduates are still steady or increasing in the state. Those institutions may also have more state support, so they can offer larger aid packages.
DiStefano highlighted strategies they are using to combat these issues, including diversifying the enrollment population, trying to reduce out-of-pocket costs and using data to inform enrollment goals.
CU Boulder also hopes to increase its graduation and retention rates in the future. Six-year graduation rates are currently 71% for the fall 2012 cohort, and its goal is 80% for the fall 2017 cohort.
The university is trying to improve its advising programs with the first-year experience transition committee to help this goal.
The chancellors also discussed online enrollment, which is a wide trend in higher education. DiStefano said they hope to reach an online enrollment of 11,281 by 2023. This past year, enrollment was 8,924.
Finally, Saliman and the chancellors discussed CU’s favorability rating. In 2019, a poll found CU’s favorability was 79%. It hopes to reach 80% by 2023.
“It has been continually rising,” said spokesman Ken McConnellogue, adding improving the rating will now be more difficult.
CU Boulder hopes to increase researching funding by $100 million by 2023, as well as nearly double patents awarded, to improve its reputation, DiStefano said.
The T-shirts of CU
The gavel was passed from former board Chair Sue Sharkey, R-Castle Rock, to new Chair Glen Gallegos, R-Grand Junction in the morning. Following that ceremony, regents introduced Mark and Debbie Kennedy, the system’s new president and first lady.
Debbie Kennedy wore a sewing apron to illustrate her work in costume design. Mark Kennedy wore an Exercise RIMPAC T-shirt, which he said illustrates how the four campuses of CU work together. RIMPAC is the largest international maritime warfare exercise.
Throughout the day, retreat attendees presented their own favorite T-shirts, or other items, to break up the work.
Shoemaker wore her shirt from a Ride the Rockies event she participated in years ago, McConnellogue wore his shirt from his time in journalism playing softball for the Greeley Tribune’s Pterodactyls, Nesbitt wore a shirt she got while seeing the musical “Hamilton” and university counsel Patrick O’Rourke wore a “Hall of Doom” shirt from the TV show “Friends of Superheroes” because he wanted to be superman as a kid.
The university leaders will resume the final day of the retreat at 8:30 Friday.