UCCS embraces change near milestone

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Shockley-Zalabak_Pam3144Everything changes.

This is not a profound statement but one that is confronted daily on university campuses across the nation. Student and community needs are changing, external competition for education dollars is increasing, and funding models for public higher education continue to shift the payment for higher education from the state to the individual. The question is not whether change in the higher education landscape will happen but how institutions choose to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex environment.

As UCCS approaches its 50th anniversary in 2015, we value the support of the community and know it is more important than ever to think about our contributions to Colorado Springs, our region and the state of Colorado. I am informed by an old Ghanaian proverb, “Look to your roots, in order to reclaim your future” as we chart our way ahead.

UCCS was founded in 1965 by local citizens at the urging of David Packard, who wanted to expand Hewlett Packard if high-quality business and engineering degrees were available locally. The founding of the campus with strong ties to Colorado Springs and the region became the cornerstone of our culture. This community connection has served UCCS well in a time of economic challenges and will serve us well into the future.

The 1965 UCCS student body was almost all local residents with few first-time freshmen. Today, with more than 10,600 students on campus and another 2,000-3,000 in distance programs, we have students from every county in Colorado, 49 states and 42 countries. More than 1,300 students are active duty, active duty dependents, or veterans. Also, 25 students are Olympic athletes.

We have more than 36,500 alums with an estimated 50 percent living and working in El Paso County and 67 percent living in Colorado.

Today we have six colleges, 37 undergraduate degree offerings, 19 master’s degree offerings and five doctoral programs. During the past three years, UCCS became Colorado’s fastest-growing, four-year public institution with students achieving at top levels in the state on professional licensure exams, admittance to medical schools and law schools, and with record employment opportunities.

The UCCS student population is 26 percent persons of color. We are one of only a few universities in the nation where students of color graduate at the same rate as our majority population. The “famous” achievement gap is closed for UCCS. We are proud of our ability to provide excellent educational experiences and contribute to the Colorado Springs workforce, which is critical to economic, social and cultural vibrancy.

UCCS could not succeed without the Colorado Springs community. The university has a long history of tremendous individual, foundation and corporate support. Scholarships, professorships and buildings bear the names of our community partners and alums. We are fortunate to be able to grow UCCS with critical support from our community.

Enhanced public and private partnerships leverage university resources to accelerate our growth, create jobs, attract investment and bring long-lasting benefit to the entire region. Through an entity called UCCS Regional Connect, a steering committee of individuals representing a cross-section of campus and community experts meet regularly to brainstorm and pursue innovative economic opportunities for the region.

A new example of partnership is City for Champions, funded through the Regional Tourism Act and including a new UCCS Sports Medicine and Performance Center. Together, the City for Champions projects combine synergistically in ways that will add dimension, energy and economic benefit to the Pikes Peak region.

In February, the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences, a leading-edge model of integrated care, will open. Partners such as Peak Vista Senior Health Care Clinic, UCCS Center for Aging, a nutrition clinic and the Center for Active Living will provide a seamless model of service for patients. In addition, the nation’s first Ph.D. track in veterans trauma will be launched in the Veteran Trauma Center. The third- and fourth-year branch of the CU School of Medicine and a Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences managed nurse clinic round out Lane’s services.

While UCCS is focused on Colorado Springs, the university has a regional perspective. The Southern Colorado Higher Education Consortium was formed in June 2009 for the purposes of enhancing educational opportunities for regional residents, supporting efforts to improve quality of life and supporting regional economic development. Its members include Adams State College, Colorado State University-Pueblo, Fort Lewis College, Lamar Community College, Otero Community College, Pikes Peak Community College, Pueblo Community College, Trinidad State Junior College, UCCS and Western State Colorado University.

The DNA of UCCS is connected to Colorado Springs. The university’s current economic impact is approximately $400 million annually but we project by 2020 to be over $750 million annually.

We want to be an asset to our community in every respect. Change is ever-present. We at UCCS embrace change that is good for the Colorado Springs region, the state, and public higher education.

Pam Shockley-Zalabak is the chancellor at UCCS.