Thank you, Gaby, for the introduction and for your leadership.
This is an exciting year on the CU Boulder campus. From the national spotlight on our football team under Coach Prime to all-time highs in student retention and graduation rates, we have lots to celebrate!
I want to thank all of you for taking time to gather today –– in person and online –– to recognize our successes and to think collectively about where we’re headed as a university.
I’d like to begin by thanking my wife, Yvonne, who’s here today.
I’d also like to acknowledge CU President Todd Saliman – thank you for your leadership across the CU system.
Whatever your connection is to CU Boulder, I am grateful for the many ways you are contributing to the campus community.
I want to begin this morning with a little thought exercise –– a trip, if you will, down memory lane.
Take a moment and visualize yourself, when you first decided to join the CU Boulder community as a student, faculty or staff member. Maybe it was decades ago, like me, or maybe it was just a matter of days or weeks.
What drew you to the University of Colorado Boulder? What were your impressions of this place? How did you hope to leave your mark here?
For me, I had never been to Colorado before when I was hired in 1974 as a freshly minted PhD graduate and former high school English teacher. But I knew about CU Boulder and was confident it would be a good fit where I could make a difference through research and teaching.
I would guess that it’s similar for many of you. Perhaps part of the reason you joined CU Boulder was a belief in the mission of higher education or a desire to lead a purposeful life.
The fact is, the success of students is the core reason this university, or any university, exists. We have an obligation –– a moral obligation –– to provide the equity-driven education that emerges in all that we do, from the residence halls to dining services to classrooms and research labs.
Today, my message is simple. It is an invitation for all of us to return to that basic premise … that the success of students is the university’s primary mission.
Bolstered by past achievements and hungry for continued improvement, we must now consider how we can usher in a new era of student success through the life-changing power of education.
But what do we mean by student success, exactly?
This has been a topic of conversation among the university’s leadership for some time. Here’s a definition that we came up with together:
Successful CU Boulder students complete their degree programs with a high-quality, meaningful, and accessible education in a reasonable amount of time, feeling like they belong to vibrant, diverse, and inclusive social and academic communities.
As you can tell from that description, student success, whether for undergraduate or graduate students, entails more than simply academic achievement or securing a good job after graduation. Success is as much about “how” and “why” we educate as it is about “what” students learn.
It starts before students ever set foot on campus, as we focus on improving access and we work to define and defend the value of a four-year degree from the University of Colorado.
It continues throughout the university experience, as students deepen their knowledge and skills, learn about themselves, and grow social connections as part of the campus and broader Boulder community.
Ensuring that students are immersed in their academic and campus experience is critical. New data from the Office of Data Analytics shows that CU Boulder experienced a record-high retention rate this fall, with more than 89% of first-year students returning for their second year.
Making necessary improvements to campus graduation rates starts with retaining students, year over year, until they reach commencement. I’m grateful to the faculty, advisors, and mentors who are helping our students advance toward their degree.
Our recruitment and retention efforts have led to our largest and most diverse incoming class in CU Boulder history this fall.
Success requires we become a university that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, and that prioritizes health and wellness –– the foundations on which success is built.
These principles are the bedrock of CU Boulder’s campus culture. But how do we know if we’re achieving our mission? And I’ll offer just a few examples.
When students are successful, we see graduates with the curiosity and willingness to engage with other perspectives and worldviews. They are ready to explore ideas, critique their own, and discuss differences, rather than dismiss them.
When students are successful, we see social mobility and even generational prosperity, particularly when we are attentive to the cost of a degree and the availability of scholarships and social support. As a first-generation student myself, I understand how a degree can open doors you never thought possible.
And when students are successful, we see individuals practicing responsible civic engagement and demonstrating humble, inclusive and ethical leadership –– skills developed during their time on campus.
The value of a four-year degree is not just in what it offers the graduate, but what it offers all of society. Education is an investment in shaping a better future for all of us.
So how do we ensure that we are enabling these kinds of successes? How do we extend these benefits more fully, to more people?
At CU Boulder, we have quite a few ideas … and I believe that every person in the campus community plays a role.
Last fall, the faculty voted to approve a common curriculum that defines the academic experience and intended learning outcomes that every undergraduate student should have upon graduation, regardless of major. The driving theme of the common curriculum is creating sustainable futures: for our students as individuals, for society, and for the world. We are beginning to implement the common curriculum this academic year so that it’s fully in place for the incoming 2025 cohort.
The Buff Undergraduate Success initiative continues to implement projects focused on addressing barriers to success identified by students. We are developing more robust and equitable academic support services, including first-year experience efforts, better advising, more effective tutoring, and a host of other services that support what faculty members are doing in the classroom.
We are leveraging our comprehensive research strengths –– particularly in climate, health, quantum, and space –– to create new knowledge in the classroom that students can carry forth in the world. As a premier research institution, our goal is to make engagement in research, scholarship and creative work a fundamental part of the CU student experience.
We are deepening our commitment to the physical and mental health and wellness of students, also of our faculty and staff. In August, this campus became one of the first 20 universities in the nation to sign the Okanagan Charter, a pledge that guides us to be a health-promoting university and to embed health and wellness into campus culture.
And by the way … I want to emphasize how important it is to consider faculty and staff success alongside students. Your health, well-being, and your sense of belonging are critical in and of themselves.
And we also know that students will be most successful when those who teach and serve them are well, are valued for their roles, and are rewarded for their contributions.
Our Finance and Business Strategy and Human Resources units are developing a long-term strategic compensation plan for the campus that will aim to improve equity across divisions and support employees’ fiscal well-being amid inflation and a competitive job market. It will build on the nearly two dozen efforts to raise salaries and improve benefits for faculty and staff over the last three years.
While I am encouraged by these examples, I know we have a long way to go. And I’m asking all of us to recommit to creating a welcoming and inclusive community where everyone can thrive.
We must ensure that students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds have the opportunity to learn, grow and excel on this campus –– particularly those who have historically been excluded or marginalized.
Next week, we plan to announce our first associate vice chancellor for Native American affairs, a person who will lead campus efforts to strengthen relationships with tribal communities across Colorado and beyond.
Student success is also dependent upon the principle that the cost of education must be manageable and predictable.
We have provided that predictability since 2016 through CU Boulder’s four-year tuition guarantee for undergraduates. Students and their families know the cost of education for those years and won’t face unpredictable increases in tuition.
We are also decreasing costs through initiatives like the expanded CU Promise program, which covers tuition and fees for all Colorado resident students who are eligible for the Pell Grant, as well as the Lattice Scholars Program recently announced by the College of Engineering and Applied Science that provides even more support to help students meet the full cost of attendance.
In recent years we have worked to improve compensation, benefits and the experience for graduate students as well, and we will continue to explore ways that we can reduce the cost of a high-quality education for students and families.
Finally, student success relies upon a campus infrastructure that is solid and responsive to changing needs.
We have revised the campus budget model and are implementing new technology infrastructure, like the new enterprise video platform YuJa, which provides instructors and students with a better user experience for video content, including robust accessibility features.
And we are charting a course to meet our ambitious sustainability goals through a Climate Action Plan now nearing completion. We must ensure the physical campus can prosper for another 150 years and beyond, in a way that is healthy for people and the planet.
All of these things I’ve named, we believe, are good ideas to make meaningful progress. But they are ultimately experiments. As a university, we will continue to keep iterating, testing, evaluating, course-correcting. We will listen for feedback, we will fail, and we will try again.
What I do know for certain is that we must pursue a new era of student success together.
If you take away only one thing from my remarks today, I hope it’s this: The responsibility for students’ success belongs with every single one of us.
I am proud to be standing here today leading this crucial effort … and I am confident that this university is in an excellent position to continue making meaningful progress on student success thanks to all of you.
So, it is with the utmost gratitude that after nearly 15 years as chancellor and 50 years as a faculty member at CU Boulder, I have decided to retire as chancellor and begin my transition back to the faculty in the School of Education.
I will remain in my current position until the conclusion of a national search for our next leader. Then, I will serve as Senior Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and will continue my service as the Quigg and Virginia S. Newton Endowed Chair in Leadership. I will also continue to engage with major donors and highly engaged alumni across the university’s landscape, while supporting the transition of the new chancellor.
President Saliman will share more information on the search process in the coming weeks.
It has been such a rewarding and humbling experience to serve as chancellor of Colorado’s flagship university for the past 15 years. I am so proud of our faculty, staff and students and all that you have accomplished, and I also will treasure the many alumni, donors, parents and friends of the university I was lucky enough to meet.
Finally, I want to thank my family for their support and for allowing me to miss birthdays, anniversaries and holidays because of my duties to the university.
As we move into our next chapter as a university, there will continue to be naysayers across the nation who claim higher education is failing. Even among college graduates, studies show confidence is declining in the idea that a college degree is a worthwhile investment.
Instead of being discouraged, let us use this as an opportunity to fight fiction with facts.
We have a chance as a flagship public institution to show why a college degree is still the single best investment you can make for yourself, for your children, and your children’s children.
Let’s show that it is still true by focusing on student success and all it entails –– not simply for our own job security or to “stay in business” as a university, but because student success means communities thrive, this nation is revitalized and our world is restored.
In the end, “student success” is not a checklist for individual students to complete, but a guide and a roadmap for the leadership, faculty and staff to act upon.
So when a Forever Buff asks themselves, am I better off for having attended CU Boulder? Let’s make sure they can automatically and unequivocally say yes… not simply because of the dollars in their pocket but because of the totality of their lives and the richness of the world around them.
Thank you all for being here today. And Go Buffs!