Denver State of the Campus Address, 2017

State of the Campus: 'Because of you, CU Denver is on the rise'

Chancellor Horrell praises collective work to advance university priorities

September 21, 2017

The take-home message from this year’s State of the Campus address: “Every one of us on this campus has a role to play in student success.”

A total of about 400 faculty, staff and students joined CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell Wednesday in the Terrace Room at the Lawrence Street Center for a morning and an afternoon session of the address. Speaking to a full house at each session, Horrell underscored the privilege and responsibility of faculty and staff to serve the 15,008 students who are currently enrolled at our university (the most ever) and help them on their path to earning a degree.

She opened her talk with an anecdote about “university day” at her granddaughter’s school and shared a photo of the 5-year-old wearing CU Denver gear that drew smiles and “Aw”s from the audience. Then, the chancellor shifted to business items, giving updates on university goals, highlighting major campus initiatives and putting into context the accomplishments of the past year.

“It is not hyperbole to say that the impact of our work drives society,” she said. “It’s important, then, that we stop and take stock to ensure that we can continue to do what is so profoundly important.”

Progress on five strategic priorities

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She was there:

CU Denver student and staff member Christina Hughes attended the State of the Campus address and was excited to hear about the university’s new budget model and sustainability plans. The psychology major and parent of four agrees that it’s important to do more than just break even financially. With a part-time job in the Center for Identity & Inclusion, Hughes also appreciated the portions of the speech addressing collaboration, inclusiveness and respect.

Christina Hughes
Christina Hughes, CU Denver student and staff member


Based on feedback and input received during last year’s “Reach Out and Listen Tour,” Horrell worked with her leadership team to establish five strategic priorities to guide university initiatives and efforts. Attendees at the State of the Campus address received wallet cards outlining those priorities, and Horrell drove them home with facts, figures and details:

Student Success
As a result of the Student Success Partnership (SSP) with the Education Advisory Board launched in January, this year’s budget includes five new undergraduate advisors and an increase in financial aid for undergraduates. The Transfer Admissions team has expanded its presence on area community college campuses. Instructional innovations are being integrated into core class to improve pass rates, and faculty are leveraging grants to incorporate high-impact practices (HIPs) into their instruction. The new SSP technology platform, which uses predictive analytics to provide appropriate student interventions, is set to launch in early October.

“Our consistent focus is to help every single student succeed.”

Scholarly Preeminence
In the past year, two new deans joined the university: Nan Ellin in the College of Architecture and Planning and Marty Dunn in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Additionally, 66 new faculty members came to the university, 15 faculty members earned tenure and nine received promotion to full professor. Sheana Bull became assistant vice chancellor for Digital Education, and Scot Chadwick came on as executive director for Digital Education. For the first time, the university budget included funding for graduate student recruitment, and faculty will be incented to grow sponsored research activity through matching funds and seed grants. CU Denver’s first stand-alone facilities Master Plan nears completion, and the Board of Regents will act upon it later this semester.

“In this crowded educational marketplace, one of our most important differentiators is our role as a research university.”

Community Impact
The CU in the City campaign launched in February to paint a portrait of the university’s relationship with Denver. Additionally, an initial inventory of the university’s civic and community engagement initiatives has been completed. And in collaboration with the City of Denver and Denver Mayor and CU Denver alumnus Michael Hancock, the university is developing the City Centre, a hub for urban-related research, partnerships and engagement.

“[CU Denver makes] many contributions to [Denver’s] civic, cultural and economic health.”

Inclusive Excellence
Results from the university’s first-ever sexual misconduct survey will inform and improve the university’s treatment of sexual misconduct, and Campus Conversations have opened up discourse among the campus community on a variety of issues. In light of recent national events, university leaders have publicly reaffirmed a commitment to fostering an environment of inclusiveness, understanding and mutual respect. Several construction and renovation projects – including the Comcast Media and Technology Center, the North Classroom building and the Student Wellness Center – are creating spaces that support collaboration and enhance the campus learning and working environment.

“Last year, I talked about the silos here at CU Denver … and asked you to help break them down – and boy, did you respond.”

Financial Sustainability
Currently, 80 percent of the campus budget comes from tuition and fees, making the institution’s financial stability vulnerable to swings in enrollment. To ensure long-term sustainability, revenue sources are being diversified through a focus on key areas, including summer academic offerings, online courses, CU South Denver initiatives and alumni outreach. Since last fall, a broad cross-campus team has been developing a new budget model, which aligns investments and resources with strategic priorities and increases transparency, so everyone can understand the budget and their role in it.

“Just as student success is at the heart of what we do, financial stability is the foundation for all our efforts.”

“Delivering on its Promise” investment

CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell
CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell speaks with audience members in the Terrace Room.

Following her comprehensive report on strategic priorities, Horrell described the plan to invest in CU Denver’s future, through which the CU System will provide $5 million annually for the next 10 years to help create long-term financial sustainability for the campus. Supported by CU President Bruce Benson and approved by the regents in June, these funds will support strategic investments, including merit-based pay increases.

“Far from being a hand-out, this support comes with the expectation that we will utilize these resources both wisely and strategically, with the goal of weaning ourselves off them and being self-sufficient and financially sound for the years ahead,” Horrell said.


A five-year roadmap

Horrell and her leadership team plan to tie these diverse efforts and initiatives together with a five-year “actionable roadmap,” which defines goals, identifies people responsible and lays out a schedule for progress.

Five “drivers” will lead the roadmap effort, one for each strategic priority area:

  • Student Success – Raul Cardenas, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
  • Scholarly Preeminence – Rod Nairn, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs
  • Community Impact – Paul Teske, Dean, School of Public Affairs
  • Inclusive Excellence – Brenda J. Allen, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion
  • Financial Sustainability – Jennifer Sobanet, CFO and Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance

“The roadmap is not another, separate initiative,” Horrell said. “Rather, it will provide a tangible way for all of us to see where we’re going and how everyone is contributing to get us there.”

The group hopes to “get there” with a final roadmap to share with the campus community in the spring semester.

A challenge and a thank you

Before concluding her speech and asking for questions, Horrell gave the audience a challenge. The university’s current six-year graduation rate is 48.2 percent. CU Denver’s goal that was established years ago, as reported to the regents for their annual metrics report, is to raise that number to 50 percent.

“I say, ‘We can do better!’” Horrell said. “Today I am charging all of us to put a stake in the ground for a 60-percent six-year graduation rate.”

Many audience members applauded.

“We have accomplished a lot in just the past year. Which is to say that you have accomplished a lot,” she said. “Our work is propelling CU Denver on its rise to being a top asset of the city. I believe this community has the motivation, the ability and the drive to take CU Denver to levels of distinction never before realized.”

Horrell encouraged attendees to pick up a Year in Review pamphlet on their way out and review some of the most recent and significant accomplishments throughout the university. In closing, she urged staff and faculty to continue their work to help CU Denver deliver on its promise as a public urban research university.

“Major change requires extraordinary commitment, patience and some very hard decisions,” she said. “The road can be winding and bumpy. It can be frustrating, but I’m confident that, together, we will persevere in reaching our destination. You have my deepest gratitude for what you do each and every day. Here’s to a great year!”

Applause rose from the audience once again.

View the slideshow from the 2017 State of the Campus address.

Discussion from the audience

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In case you missed it:

To kick off the State of the Campus address, Raul Cardenas, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs,
announced a new university partnership with King Soopers, through which you can help fundraise for CU Denver while grocery shopping. When you use a CU Denver King Soopers gift card, a portion of the bill will go to the Loving Lynx fund to support students in need. You can purchase your card at the Lynx Center in the Student Commons Building.


At the conclusion of each session, Chancellor Horrell invited questions from audience members, and several individuals from different units throughout the institution stepped up to the microphone.

A faculty member from the College of Arts & Media noted the continual growth of the CU Denver student body and asked if there are plans for more residence halls on campus. Horrell said the Master Plan provides for a new freshman dormitory, as well as potential upper-division, international and graduate student housing, which may be accomplished through a public/private partnership.

A math faculty member from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences raised concerns about the course drop deadline for first-year students, asking if it might be postponed a bit to give students more time to get a handle on college life.

Horrell agreed that it’s an issue when a student takes on an unrealistic course load – often combined with work and family responsibilities – and feels compelled to drop a class. She suggested that the solution should come before the problem arises, through academic advising services. She referred to current innovations in academic advising, including predictive analytics, that will be helpful tools to identify and assist students who are experiencing difficulties in their classes.

A human resources administrator, somewhat new to the university, said she often wears her CU Denver gear out and about in the community and gets comments from young people expressing their interest in attending CU Denver. She asked what the best response to their inquiry might be.

“‘Let me take you by the hand and help you fill out the application!’” Horrell responded with a laugh. “I would say to that young person, ‘That is absolutely within your reach. CU Denver is a place where everyone will be a partner in your success.’”

And to the staff member, she added, “Please, keep wearing that CU Denver T-shirt!”