Dr. Angie Paccione has been around higher education for a long time: as a professor, a student and Colorado legislator. The appointed leader of the Colorado Department of Higher Education sees some troublesome recurring issues and new ones that need collective focus.
During a tour of CU Boulder Wednesday, Paccione engaged in curious and passionate conversation with students and campus leaders about pressing topics like retention, state funding and mental health.
The visit is part of Paccione’s effort to spend time on campuses across the state so she can effectively tell the story of the state’s campuses and build support among those who hold the state’s purse strings.
She started her visit at CASE (Center for Academic Success and Engagement) and learned of the new Program in Exploratory Studies, which helps provide new academic pathways to students who are unsure of their major or did not get accepted into a more competitive program and would like to look into other ways to achieve their career goals.
Paccione got a glimpse into a new advising help lab – an idea initiated by students. She encouraged CU Boulder to explore innovative partnerships to boost the transfer student pipeline, citing a new partnership between University of Northern Colorado and Aims Community College, appropriately called Aims to UNC
She met with Chancellor Philip DiStefano and Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jennifer McDuffie. Most of their conversation centered on mental health. Anxiety and depression among students, faculty and staff is at epidemic levels, they agreed.
“This is pervasive at every institution,” Paccione said. “When I recently asked our college and university presidents, ‘What is the most pressing issue on your campus right now?’ they unanimously replied, ‘mental health. ”
McDuffie outlined an array of new programs at CU Boulder aimed at destigmatizing support services and streamlining offerings.
Paccione added that health and wellness are critical underpinnings to student success. To that end, it is her goal to make Colorado the first state to ensure all its campuses are “hunger free.” To achieve this label, campuses would have to demonstrate they have programs in place to ensure no student goes hungry.
Throughout her visit, Paccione stopped frequently to interact with students.
She popped into a classroom full of English majors and asked them what their career goals looked like. She quizzed a couple international aerospace students about what they thought about the new aerospace building and their studies here. She asked a couple student workers at CASE about how they liked working in advising.
As a passionate believer in the power of a postsecondary degree to change lives (she herself was a first-generation student), Paccione sought facts and anecdotes to help her convince legislators and Colorado taxpayers that higher education is worth the investment in a time of scarce state funding.
DiStefano talked about the tuition guarantee that locks in tuition for Colorado students enrolled at CU Boulder at the same rate if they complete in four years.
“It’s wonderful that Executive Director Paccione is taking the time to tour our campus, along with campuses across Colorado,” said DiStefano. “The Colorado Department of Higher Education and the appointed Colorado Commission on Higher Education have articulated laudable goals for credential attainment, access and affordability for all Colorado students. We support these goals, and look forward to working on solutions together.”
In addition to touring the new aerospace building on east campus and CASE, Paccione also got a glimpse into the struggles the campus faces with its aging buildings and keeping up with deferred maintenance. She got up close and personal with the basement of Hellems Arts and Sciences with Vice Chancellor for Infrastructure and Sustainability David Kang as the campus made the plea for infrastructure funding.
Finally, Paccione lunched and chatted policy with Provost Russell L. Moore; Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation Terri Fiez; Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Akirah Bradley; education Dean Kathy Schultz; Graduate School Dean Scott Adler; interim engineering Dean Keith Molenaar; CUSG Tri-Executive Ryan Passes; and CUSG Legislative Liaison Molly Frommelt.