Editorial: Four-campus CU sets new standards


Among countless factors that place Colorado and Colorado Springs among the more enviable residential and business locations in the country is the success of the University of Colorado.

The four-campus system has spent the past decade reinventing higher education, and The Gazette’s editorial board spoke with university President Bruce Benson this week.

Benson took the reins in 2008, after the Colorado Board of Regents hired former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown to clean up a mess of athletic, academic and faculty scandals that had made the flagship campus in Boulder a national joke and a gold mine for late-night comedians. If it wasn’t beer riots, it was a steady stream of athletic date-rape controversies, faculty drug parties and a professor insulting 9/11 victims while instructing students how to engage in terror attacks.

Brown cleaned house in short order, setting the stage for Benson to rebuild the institution. In less than nine years, he has achieved indisputable indicators of success:

• Grew a $2.2 billion budget to $3.82 billion, despite a substantial decrease in state funding

Colorado funding of higher education has dropped to 48th among 50 states, but Benson has raised private funds and partnered with private-sector businesses

• Increased the university’s endowment from $660 million to $1.25 billion and rising

• Achieved record enrollment on all campuses

• Increased diversity on all campuses

• Increased research funding from $640 million to $924 million

• Increased efficiency, achieving administrative overhead that is 27 percent below the average among peers

• Significantly increased student retention and graduation rates

We could go on, but suffice to say all major indicators are far above average when compared to peer institutions. The story of success has become so well known that university presidents and their administrative teams are visiting Benson’s office to find out how it is done. Most recently, Benson has entertained the new president of the University of Iowa and a team of his vice presidents. The University of Hawaii sent an administrative team of five to study the university’s methods. Wyoming, North Dakota and USC have send teams to CU. Others are lining up.

“We are trying to become the poster child of how you run these places better,” Benson told The Gazette.

Most importantly, it is paying off for students. Instead of a reputation for riots and infamously nutty professors, CU is known for above-average graduates. That explains the university’s student loan default rate of 3.5, compared with the national average of 11-plus percent.

A recent survey of CU alumni found 95 percent are either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the educations they received.

“Our graduates get great jobs,” Benson said. “That’s because we invest in the best faculty we can find, because we can have found way to afford the investment. This leads to top quality graduates and a reputation that proceeds them.”

Colorado’s culture and economy depend on a high quality education system. At CU, Benson, the Board of Regents, the faculty, donors, alumni and partnering businesses have reinvented post-secondary education for the 21st century. They have created a model others are rushing to learn about.