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‘Work for All’: How CU Denver Will Become a Leading Public Urban Research University by 2030

Chancellor Marks Presents New Strategic Plan That Will Create a More Equitable, Accessible, and Innovative Future for Denver and Colorado

June 22, 2021

On June 17, Chancellor Marks presented to the CU Board of Regents the 2030 strategic plan, a profound repositioning of CU Denver to be a public urban research university that works for all: learners of all kinds and at all stages of life, industries and employers that need talent ready to hit the ground running, and communities requiring new solutions and discoveries.    

“CU Denver 2030: Make Education Work for All” paints an ambitious future for the institution, created entirely by the Lynx community, and illustrates a viable alternative to more traditional and less accessible models of higher education. The plan contains big, bold ideas, including the aspiration to become the nation’s first equity-serving institution and the desire to be a “university for life” that continuously serves the needs of learners—and employers—over a lifetime. 

The plan leverages many of CU Denver’s greatest strengths and assets, including our downtown location in an emerging global city that combines outdoor adventure and entrepreneurial swagger; the wonderful diversity of our student body; and the intellectual and experiential heft of our faculty, academic and research programs, and professional pathways.

“The cohesive plan addresses head-on the idea that for the last several hundred years, education has not worked for all, particularly not for first-gen students, transfer students, and working parents, populations that CU Denver serves,” Marks said. “This is part of what makes CU Denver unique, both within the CU system and in Colorado. In fact, differentiation among the campuses strengthens CU overall – the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. In our plan, we strive to meet learners where they are and help higher education fit into their lives, not the other way around.”

CU Denver’s 2030 strategic plan consists of five top-line goals, formed from the input of 3,000 people—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and other stakeholders—who shared 7,000 ideas throughout the three-phase design thinking process spanning from January to June. (See the 2030 Strategic Plan website for more on the process.) Together, our community created this plan to better fulfill our role as a public urban research university, proudly claim our unique identity, and reach our fullest potential.

Marks appointed Martin Dunn, PhD, dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, as chair of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, which provided leadership throughout the process and worked closely with eight vision teams to generate bold, forward-thinking ideas that meet the needs of all students, faculty, and staff and contribute to a more innovative and equitable society.

“One of my greatest takeaways is that this is exactly what our community needed—they were eager to help shape the future, but they wanted and needed a leader who would set a unifying vision to get the best ideas out of them and then gel it into a way forward,” Dunn said. “This is what Chancellor Marks has done.”

Others involved echoed similar, enthusiastic sentiments about the inclusive nature of the process and what lies ahead for CU Denver. 

“I’m proud that these very large-rostered vision teams have been able to work in concert one with another to produce what we are about to see: a very solid vision for this university,” said John Ronquillo, PhD, assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs, vision team co-chair, and co-chair of the Equity Task Force, formed in October 2020 as a result of Marks’ Equity Listening Sessions.

Gabe Castano, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management and a vision team participant, said, “We were very intentional about casting a wide net both in our teams as well as in our student surveys. We thought big and adventurous about what we wanted to accomplish.” 

Jaimie Carrington, program director for undergraduate recruitment, retention, and student success, and vision team co-chair, added, “The sky is the limit. We are looking at something pivotal on a global scale, and I’m very proud to be part of that.” 

Our 2030 Goals 

  • Become the nation’s first equity-serving institution. 
    • Leverage CU Denver’s role as a Hispanic- and Asian American and Pacific Islander-serving institution to secure resources that build institutional capacity for learner success, research, ​and scholarship. ​
  • Become known as the “university for life,” providing access to​ educational excellence over a lifetime. ​  ​
    • Increase access to high-quality, relevant​, and culturally responsive education that​ meets the needs of learners, employers, ​and society through every stage of life and​ career—from 17 – 117. 
  • Be internationally known for research​ and creative work.  ​
    • Create new agile organizational structures that facilitate high-performance interdisciplinary teams, and uniquely integrate arts, humanities, and creative activities as part of CU Denver’s research approach. 
  • Serve as the anchor institution for an open innovation district in downtown Denver.  
    • Embody a culture of open innovation across the university, encouraging collaboration, invention, creativity, ​and growth.
  • Be known as a people-centered “best​ place to work.” ​
    • Create an organization-wide culture change program to ensure the university honors the humanity, talent, and hard work of its people—making work meaningful, impactful, and fun. 

The goals represent the big picture and the long view, Marks emphasized. Now, efforts will shift from visionary to concrete: establishing annual goals and metrics and setting and aligning priorities. A formal rollout and celebration will take place this fall, when the campus community returns to in-person learning and activities. 

“We have never been better positioned to lead this strategic work,” said Jennifer Sobanet, executive vice chancellor of administration and strategy. “It will take all of us across the university to be innovative, creative, and to take risks. There will be challenges along the way but, importantly, there will be huge successes that everybody will be a part of.”

This is CU Denver’s time to tell its unique story and further fortify the CU System in the process. 

“Not all strategic plans are the same,” Marks said. “What we undertook was what our community needs at this time, and I am grateful for their passion, creative thinking, extraordinary effort, and belief in our collective future. We truly believe this is CU Denver’s moment.”

Read more: Creating a Roadmap for CU Denver’s Next 10 Years: Hear from some of the CU Denver community members behind the scenes of the 2030 strategic planning process

Using a Human-Centered Approach to Create a Vision for CU Denver’s Next 10 Years

When Marks joined CU Denver last July, she spent her first 100 days listening to campus constituents, hearing again and again the pride that people feel and the desire to take the university to the next level. The former strategic plan was written in 2007 for the joint Denver | Anschutz campuses and set to expire in 2020, presenting a prime time to envision CU Denver’s next 10 years as the CU System’s most urban university in the heart of downtown Denver.

“We share many strengths and mutual benefits as a consolidated campus with Anschutz, but we have a unique strengths and challenges that set us apart,” Marks said, adding, “Many people likened the institution to a teenager in that, while we have laid the foundation for opportunity, we are at an inflection point and need to decide who we want to be when we grow up.”

To do so requires a vision, and so came the implementation of the 2030 strategic planning process. In partnership with the Strategic Planning Facilitation and Design Innovation Team, composed of students, faculty, and staff from the Comcast Media and Technology Center (CMTC) and CU Denver | Anschutz Inworks, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee began Phase 1 in January 2021. The human-centered approach thrived on inclusivity and the investment of hundreds of CU Denver students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders.

Phase 1 By the Numbers:

290 participants in eight virtual community sessions
232 participants in an asynchronous survey
522 total participants
3,674 stories, ideas, and aspirations shared

With the Phase 1 feedback as a North Star guiding their efforts, eight vision teams formed to focus on areas related to the university: empowered by inclusive excellence, put people at the center, transform through partnerships, lead in student success, educate for the future, amplify innovation and entrepreneurship, better the world through research and creative work, and leverage CU Denver’s place.

In Phase 2, the vision teams worked with the CU Denver community and other stakeholders to create high-level audacious goals in their areas to submit to Marks in early April. The vision teams were guided by a cutting-edge design innovation process.

In Phase 3, the eight vision teams’ reports were synthesized into a cohesive strategic plan, which encompasses the ideas of more than 3,000 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and other stakeholders. Martin Dunn, PhD, dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing and chair of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, calls it one of the most inclusive processes he’s ever seen.

“The enthusiasm, the energy, the passion that’s bubbling up is what’s really going to make this successful,” Dunn said.