If you're looking for a brief description of what's happening these days at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, you probably won't find it. There's simply too much going on.
Want some fresh news? Last week, CU's regents approved $74 million for expanding UCCS student housing, adding 510 more beds over the next three years for a total of 1,600-plus students living on campus by fall 2016.
What about enrollment? That's the next headline, because UCCS senior executive vice-chancellor Brian Burnett says the number of on-campus students (roughly 8,500 undergraduates and 1,500 pursuing post-graduate degrees) will surpass 10,000 for the first time this fall. And that doesn't count at least 2,000 more taking classes online. The incoming freshman enrollment, which was 425 in 1995 and 968 in 2004, climbed to 1,447 in 2012 and could reach 1,500 this September.
New programs? They're everywhere you look, such as Bachelor of Innovation degrees in various areas (business, engineering, etc.), and students being able to finish undergraduate work in many fields without setting foot on campus.
Community outreach? It has become constant and organic, such as the business school's El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization (or EPIIC) recently organizing an "Ignite Colorado Springs" event of rapid-fire, five-minute presentations detailing economic development progress across the city. With minimal promotion, about 300 people showed up, so more Ignite events will follow in months ahead.
Local economic impact? UCCS folks estimate that figure was $310 million annually in 2010, and they project between $750 million and $1 billion by 2020. But here's a more tangible way to measure it: Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak says about 480 students have jobs at the University Village shopping complex on North Nevada Avenue, just west of the campus.
Burnett makes another point, saying University Village's corporate investment has added up to the $50 million range, "which is nice to have just across from the campus." As mentioned here previously ("UCCS inspires new thinking," Feb. 6), the university can help business and political leaders wanting to diversify our economy and bring in more large companies.
But it's time for everyone to agree on another point.
UCCS is the best thing Colorado Springs has going for it now. Our city government has been slowed by turmoil, turnover and tempers. Our military presence already has felt the effects of belt-tightening. Our tourism took a painful hit from the Waldo Canyon Fire. Our manufacturing has gone downhill for more than a decade, with no sign of a big rebound.
Granted, we have fresh energy and determination to enhance downtown, and short-term projects such as making alleyways more enticing will help. But the ambitious projects taking shape mostly have timelines of three to five years, or more.
Then there's UCCS. Across from University Village you see the rising walls of the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences. The four-story building, scheduled for completion in 2014, will focus on senior health, house a CU School of Medicine branch, and feature similar architecture to other campus projects. Not far away, a huge parking garage, big enough to have two soccer fields on top, is close to reality. Then comes the added student housing, and an expanded student rec center. All in three years.
Almost anyone who hears about UCCS and its accelerating developments can't help but be impressed. So the city and UCCS should pursue more partnership deals, such as additional bus and shuttle service connecting students to downtown and other areas. It could mean more placement programs, such as internships, aimed at keeping students in the area during summers and after graduation. It's not enough to see it. We need to do something.
Why care so much about UCCS? The university has the ability to unite us all. It's practically immune from political battles, with all sides appreciating its value to the region. UCCS has no apparent enemies, and Shockley-Zalabak's administration has capitalized by cultivating more philanthropy.
There's nothing wrong with Colorado Springs becoming known, more and more, as a college town. And if that's a major portion of our city's "next" identity, let's go for it.