President Bruce Benson's newsletter

March 2015

Dear Alumni and Friends,

The fundamental idea of public investment in higher education has changed dramatically in recent decades. States previously paid two-thirds or more of the cost of a college education and students paid the rest. In Colorado today, that equation is reversed, with the student paying two-thirds. Yet the return on the state's investment remains: a highly skilled workforce, an educated and engaged citizenry, and universities that advance the economy, health and quality of life in our state.

The perception of higher education has changed as well. Early in our nation's history, higher education was a private gain. Public universities changed that and higher education was also considered a public good. Unfortunately, many are mistakenly reverting to the private gain notion.

Regardless of shifting sands, we in public higher education have never wavered from our mission: preparing an educated citizenry in addition to benefiting our state and society. The new economic reality of public higher education does not alter those imperatives, but it's also not so new in Colorado. When I arrived in 2008, our state funding was $228 million. But we knew it was heading south and began making changes to address a new reality. It plunged to $142 million in FY 2012 before rebounding to $168 million this year, with another important increase proposed for the coming year.

Still, our state funding ranks 48th nationally, accounting for just over 5 percent of our $3.3 billion annual budget. Despite relatively low tuition (compared with peers) and certainly low state funding (compared nationally), CU provides a high-value degree. We do so by being efficient in our operations and innovative in our approaches to funding. Perhaps most important, we deliver because of a team effort among our top-notch faculty and staff.

In business, you play with the hand you're dealt and that's how we operate. Rather than complain, we are making it work. We do our part to keep costs in check, which I'll touch on in a moment, but it's also important to put this in a larger national context.

For example, our Boulder campus provides an apples-to-apples comparison. The chart below offers a snapshot of funding at some of our Association of American Universities (AAU) peers, many of which are just beginning to grapple with state funding cuts. Yet our Boulder campus is still substantially below peers at $13,577.

There are many examples, but one in the news lately is the University of Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker is proposing a $300 million cut to higher education over the next two years. Even if that happens, estimated state funding and tuition would still be almost double the state funding plus tuition and fees amount for residents attending CU-Boulder. The story is similar out of Arizona, where the governor is proposing $75 million in cuts. That would take Arizona State University's state funding to an estimated $6,049, just less than double what Boulder receives. Combined with tuition and fees, ASU would be at an estimated $15,910.

Despite our place near the bottom of the state funding barrel, our excellent faculty deliver a high-quality education and we also run an administratively tight ship. We have also taken a number of steps in recent years to keep costs down and increase revenue.

Our administrative overhead is 36 percent below national peers. We have passed legislation in the past six sessions of the Legislature that allows us to cut regulation, realize efficiencies, generate revenue and institute better business practices. We save millions annually by getting out of the state procurement system and creating our own system. We self-insured our 29,000 employees, saving millions more. One piece of legislation allowed us to increase international students (while still guaranteeing all qualified Coloradans are accepted) and the revenue they bring. The change has the added bonus of enhancing the diversity of the learning environment.

Many CU faculty teach more for minimal additional compensation. They are the bedrock of our efforts and their dedication and professionalism cannot be understated. We have entered public-private partnerships that generate more revenue and meet state needs. We drastically revamped our fundraising operations to ensure better results and more accountability.

Yet we have more efficiencies to find and more revenue streams to explore.

We also work to keep tuition in check. The CU Board of Regents in February heard the administration's recommendation for tuition rates for 2015-16. Proposed increases – ranging from 3 percent at the Boulder campus to 3.5 percent in Colorado Springs and 3.7 percent in Denver – would be the lowest in nearly a decade. During the recession, we had increases in the 8 percent to 9 percent range, but with rebounding state funding, we are committed to keeping increases low. We can do so in part because of Gov. John Hickenlooper's proposed investment (recently supported by the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee) of more than $16 million in CU's operations for the coming fiscal year. Policymakers are still deliberating and the proposal could be reduced.

We fully understand that tuition increases are increases, and that students and families paying the bills will have to pay more, which can be challenging. Recognizing this, we have made substantial investments in internally generated financial aid, from $86 million when I started in 2008 to $140 million this year. Yet the most important thing about investing in a college degree is that it pays dividends over a lifetime in terms of more earning, broader opportunities, better health and higher engagement in civic and community life. Not to mention the benefit to the state.

While the funding equation for higher education may change, our university's role in educating students and benefitting the state and society remains the same. It's our job to ensure we continue to deliver on the promise of public higher education.

For feedback, contact


Bruce Benson


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  • March, Public higher education's changing face
  • February, Health and medicine: modest beginnings, lofty aspirations 


  • November, Leadership lessons
  • October, Learning how to learn
  • September, CU's largest real estate gift
  • August, What for, not how much
  • July, The bogeyman in the basement
  • May, Private gain or public good?
  • April, Funding outlook: sunny today, stormy tomorrow
  • March, Expertise and passion
  • February, Soaring in southern Colorado
  • January, It all starts with reputation



  • December, The threat from legal pot
  • November, Good news comes in threes
  • October, CU labs: a magnificent microcosm
  • September, Is college worth it?
  • August, A lasting legacy and a record set
  • July, Getting there from here
  • June, Serving those who served
  • May, Indelible impact
  • April, Bruce on Bruce
  • March, Perception and reality
  • February,Leading leaders


  • December, We're most proud of this CU uniform
  • November, From python hearts to Tebow's cleats
  • October, We want you
  • September, How to succeed at college and save $20,000
  • August, Reputation drives results
  • July, Teaching an old president new tricks
  • June, A message from the president
  • April, CU announces $1.5 billion Creating Futures campaign
  • February




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