The University of Colorado can expand the use of internships, make better connections with businesses and play a key role in Colorado’s emerging economic clusters, a panel told the CU Board of Regents at its annual summer retreat on July 22.
The panel comprised Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce; Renny Fagan, president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association; Richard Lewis, president and CEO of RTL Networks Inc.: and Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
The board had a wide-ranging discussion with panelists about how CU contributes to the state’s economic health and work force development. Part of the session included a frank assessment of how the university can do better.
Clark said economic clusters key to Colorado’s economic health, including aerospace and health care, increasingly are merging, and the university should look for opportunities in the emerging environment. He also said the university needs to do a better job of conveying its value so voters would be inclined to support potential ballot initiatives to increase funding.
Schwenke said higher education needs to be more nimble to serve the needs of a rapidly changing work force.
“We need to allow for people who are working to come back to school,” she said. “We need more access points and exit points for education.”
Fagan said the university should not forget opportunities for its students and programs in the nonprofit sector. He said the state has some 29,000 nonprofit organizations, which can provide important connections for CU.
“We want people who are critical thinkers and problem solvers,” Fagan said. “We need to promote volunteerism and community engagement with students.
“The university should encourage the nonprofit world as a profession. Calling is important, but it’s also a business.”
CU does a good job in offering select nonprofit certificate programs, citing those at CU Denver and UCCS as prime examples.
Lewis said internships offer small businesses a resource while also providing potential career paths for students.
“It doesn’t take much to take a kid with fresh knowledge into a position where they are generating revenue,” he said.
Regent Stephen Ludwig asked the panel to provide insight into what is working at the university and what isn’t.
“The CU system needs to serve the state as best we can with limited resources. We need to hear what we’re doing right and what we could do better,” he said.
Panelists agreed that alternative delivery methods for educational offerings, robust internship programs, public-private partnerships and access to faculty expertise need to be expanded. And CU needs to do a better job marketing itself.
“As you create partnerships, you create connections with people who will support you,” Schwenke said.
Clark said the university needs to tout its strengths more. “You have too many good stories to tell, but some of the people telling them are afraid they are bragging.”
He suggested a collaboration among the university, chambers of commerce, and business and community leaders to focus on sharing higher education’s value.