About 200 University of Colorado leaders, students and alumni gathered at the state Capitol on Friday, Jan. 28, for CU Advocacy Day. The occasion served as a celebration of the institution's value to the state – in the place where lawmakers determine the amount of state funding it will give to the university.
Attendance by CU community members and supporters was about triple the number from a similar event two years ago. Speakers including President Bruce D. Benson and Board of Regents Chair Kyle Hybl touted the benefits the university brings to the state, while state senators and representatives spoke of their own connections to the university as they addressed fellow lawmakers.
"CU is an important economic driver in our state," said Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. "It's not only a leader in education, but a leader in jobs creation." He noted that CU contributes $6.3 billion to the state's economy via demand for goods and services, effectively supporting 30,000 jobs outside the university.
Benson stressed that theme as well, and encouraged supporters of the university to continue to spread the word to fellow Coloradans – especially during a time when state funding has dwindled drastically.
"If legislators had their way, they would be sending more money our way," Benson said. "Their hands are tied by the budget."
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke briefly during a gathering in the old Supreme Court Chambers. He, too, acknowledged the funding difficulty facing CU and higher education institutions throughout the state.
"This is going to be a real difficult year for the budget," Hickenlooper said, noting its "Byzantine complexity."
"There are no hidden pools of money. Whether your passion is for higher education or transportation or K-12 or health care, we are going to face significant challenges on every front."
Hickenlooper said supporters of the university must be engaged with the budget process that will be ongoing during the current Legislative session. The budget for the current fiscal year faces a $251.8 million shortfall; Hickenlooper is expected to present a budget for the next fiscal year Feb. 15.
"(Lawmakers) need to hear your input," Hickenlooper said. "I'm not saying you have to light bonfires, but pay attention."
The event provided state lawmakers a chance to reconnect with – or meet for the first time – leaders from throughout the CU system. Chancellors from all four campuses attended; Hybl was joined by fellow regents Michael Carrigan, Monisha Merchant, Joe Neguse and Sue Sharkey, as well as former regents Pat Hayes, Pete Steinhauer, Paul Schauer, Maureen Ediger and Gail Schwartz, who now represents Snowmass Village in the Colorado House.