The recent decennial accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has given CU Boulder an exceptional opportunity to engage in introspection about the university’s strengths and challenges. We are committed to incorporating the thoughtful and focused feedback of the HLC review team and the HLC Institutional Actions Council as we focus on the future of Colorado’s flagship university.
I want to thank everyone who contributed to this important process, including the broad range of faculty, staff and students (both undergraduate and graduate) who lent their time and expertise in preparation for the accreditation review and who participated in the visit by the team of evaluators from HLC this past December. Your contributions assisted in helping us communicate all we have accomplished in the decade since our last review. The continuous improvement of the university, our programs and the success of our students did not go unrecognized.
The HLC site visit review team report comments on much that our university has to be proud of. Foremost among these is CU Boulder’s planning for a successful future through our five strategic initiatives: Academic Futures; Foundations of Excellence; Inclusion, Diversity and Excellence in Academics (the IDEA plan); Strategic Facilities Visioning; and Financial Futures.
Additionally, the team noted our strong commitment as a community to our multiple diversity and inclusion programs, services, and initiatives. The team also acknowledged our commitment to accessibility and affordability including increased funding for need-based aid; the CU Boulder Guarantee, which fixes undergraduate resident and non-resident tuition for four years; the CU Promise program, which guarantees low-income Colorado undergraduate students enough grants and work-study employment to pay for their share of tuition, fees and estimated book expenses; and the elimination of course and program fees. While noting the increased financial pressures on graduate students in our high cost of living area, the team also recognized that CU Boulder, over the past five years, has invested more than $8 million into graduate student stipends, increased the campus subsidy of graduate student health insurance and eliminated the athletic fee for graduate students.
Two HLC recommendations regarding teaching and learning, however, require our ongoing focus and future action. I want to emphasize that CU Boulder is committed to successfully and fully engaging in these efforts.
The first recommendation is establishing a common general education experience for all undergraduate students that it is cohesive across all our colleges and schools that offer undergraduate degrees. This recommendation fully aligns with our Academic Futures strategic initiative that recommends a campus-wide common learning experience and a common set of intended learning outcomes. Great faculty, staff and student engagement and ideas went into creating the Academic Futures vision of a common student-centered approach to teaching and learning. We look forward to reporting back to HLC in four years on the shape, goals, implementation and planned assessment of that curriculum.
The second recommendation is creating a sustained cross-campus plan for assessing student learning. Because our students are the primary focus of our educational mission, their success during and after their enrollment at the university is the best measurement of our programs. We need an organized structure to initiate, support, and monitor the regular and consistent practice of assessment across CU Boulder’s curricular and co-curricular programs. We have begun to build that structure and must commit ourselves to its growth and future, starting now.
We have developed a leadership team that has committed resources toward this effort, which is being carried out under Senior Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Assessment Katherine Eggert. The team is coordinating assessment planning with our longstanding, robust academic program review process, in order to build ongoing assessment planning into a regular, cross-campus cycle. This will be a unified effort among our academic leadership, with strong involvement of the deans and faculty, and I have no doubt we will succeed.
For more than a century the accreditation process has aided CU Boulder not only in affirming its status as one of the nation’s top universities, but also in setting its aspirations even higher – and then achieving those aspirations. The Higher Learning Commission’s focus on continuous institutional improvement is one we share and celebrate.
Philip P. DiStefano, Chancellor
University of Colorado Boulder