Published: Jan. 7, 2021

At their winter retreat on Thursday, Jan. 7, which was hosted remotely, the University of Colorado Board of Regents heard updates from the campuses about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and plans for the spring semester, including vaccine rollout. They also received an update from CU President Mark Kennedy about diversifying tuition revenue and an update on the CU system strategic plan. Additionally at the meeting, three new regents were sworn into office.

A screenshot of attendees by Zoom at the Jan. 7, 2021, CU Board of Regents retreat during the swearing-in portion of the meeting.

A screenshot of attendees at the Jan. 7, 2021, CU Board of Regents retreat, conducted via Zoom, during the swearing-in portion of the meeting.

COVID-19, vaccines entering spring

CU Boulder Interim Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke––standing in for Chancellor Philip DiStefano, who tested positive this week for COVID-19––said the university would play a role in administering the vaccines on campus. The campus has currently received a very limited amount of vaccines for health care providers in Phase 1A. When the campus begins to receive vaccines for Phase 1B, the state prioritization schedule prioritizes first responders and people over age 70. Once those populations are vaccinated, frontline essential staff and faculty and graduate students who are providing in-person instruction would be part of the Phase 1B categorization for vaccine priority. On-campus healthcare workers have already been vaccinated.

However, he noted that it could be “a significant period of time,” potentially well into the spring semester, before the vaccine becomes available for those populations as the state continues to work through Phase 1A and mandatory 1B populations. Additionally, O’Rourke said it could be late spring or into summer before many students and a large portion of CU Boulder’s workforce––those ages 16 to 59 without high-risk health factors––are able to receive the vaccines. 

“We’re thinking it’s a vaccination program that will have its greatest effect when we’re returning next fall, not this spring,” O’Rourke said.

That is why, O’Rourke said, the campus was moving forward with plans for a remote start to classes on Jan. 14 and a return to some in-person learning on Feb. 15. He said on-campus testing, physical distancing, on-campus isolation space and continued diligence in following public health requirements would continue to be key components to the spring term. As infection rates lower, he said he’s hopeful Boulder County will be able to move from Level Orange to Level Yellow on the state’s COVID-19 dial, allowing for continued expansion of social opportunities on campus.

“Our highest goal is to be in a position where we won’t go back to a higher degree of restrictions and that the restrictions will only lessen as the infection rates reduce in the community,” O’Rourke said. 

Asked by Regent Jack Kroll about the campus’s ability to require proof of vaccinations in the fall, O’Rourke said the campus is not currently mandating vaccines because they are still being administered under emergency use authorization. What the campus would do, O’Rourke said, is be able to track vaccines administered on campus to help ensure that those vaccinated receive their second dose. 

Diversifying tuition revenue

Kennedy gave the board a presentation on the importance of diversifying tuition revenue in the years to come, particularly with an anticipated nationwide drop in graduating high school seniors due to lower birth rates during the Great Recession. 

“It’s a challenge,” Kennedy said. “We have years to prepare for it, and we think we can.” 

Key to the revenue diversification efforts, he said, would be more fully meeting the demand for non-traditional degrees and programming, and being responsive to the needs of working adults who often utilize such programming. That means providing more academic terms, faster application response times and other accommodations. 

Recruiting international students, recruiting and graduating a higher percentage of high school students, investing in increased outreach and financial support, and expanding online offerings would all contribute to stemming any revenue gaps in coming years while meeting the university’s mission. 

“In addition to reaching out to high school graduates, in-state and out-of-state alike, we need to have a greater share of what we’re delivering in both online and non-degree credentials if we’re going to fully meet the demand of the in-state students and if we’re going to thrive and prosper as a university going forward.” 

Strategic plan

Kennedy, Todd Saliman, CU vice president of budget and finance, and Sharon Matusik, dean of the CU Boulder Leeds School of Business, provided the regents an update on the system’s strategic planning efforts. They outlined the four pillars of the plan: affordability and student success; discovery and impact; diversity, inclusion, equity and access; and fiscal strength. 

The overarching goal of creating a system-wide strategic plan, the group said, would be to sustain a focus on a limited number of aspirational goals that could be executed through the campus-specific strategic plans. 

Creation of the strategic plan initially launched in 2019 but was put on hold last year due to the pandemic. Regent review and approval of the system strategic plan is anticipated at the July retreat.

Swearing in of new regents

The board welcomed three new members––Nolbert D. Chavez, Callie Rennison and Ilana Spiegel––who took their oaths of office in an online ceremony after the regents’ retreat.

The ceremony was presided over by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright. Unlike past such events, the participants were not gathered together in person. Since last April, all board meetings have taken place remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chavez, Rennison and Spiegel in November were elected to six-year terms. The board sees its Republican majority flip to Democratic (5-4) for the first time since 1980.

Read more about Thursday’s swearing in ceremony and the new board members on CU Connections.

In other board news

  • O’Rourke noted that spring enrollment is currently down about 450 students versus the spring term a year ago, but that the campus is still enrolling students. Fall enrollment, meanwhile, is looking strong in terms of the number of applications coming in. 
  • Asked about further furloughs, O’Rourke stated that the CU Boulder campus hopes not to include ongoing furloughs in planning for the 2021-22 academic year. 
  • Asked for an update on DiStefano, O’Rourke said, “He was feeling poorly over the weekend but is feeling much better.” 
  • At a special board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 7, the board named Agnessa Vartanova associate vice president of Internal Audit. She will report directly to the CU Board of Regents and the Regents Audit Committee. The Department of Internal Audit helps the university accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to the evaluation and improvement of university processes related to university-wide risk management, control and governance.