Focus on graduation standards, Brown advises CMU trustees

Hank Brown, a former U.S. senator and past president of the University of Colorado and University of Northern Colorado, advised Colorado Mesa University’s trustees Thursday to focus on transitioning to a university and overseeing curriculum, rather than making its graduation rate a top priority.

“I think to look at graduation rate is absolutely ridiculous. Class availability is another matter,” Brown said during the trustees’ retreat Thursday in the University Center. “The Wizard of Oz had a 100 percent graduation rate. Everybody got something. It’s easy to hand someone a degree.”

Brown said other institutions have fallen in the trap of lowering graduation standards in order to send more students out into the world with degrees. Instead, Brown said Colorado Mesa should concern itself with keeping graduation requirements strong and making sure required classes are available to students so they aren’t stuck waiting a year or two to graduate because a class they need is full.

Brown also said during his 90-minute address to the trustees that the board should make sure required courses are valuable to students and not just what professors want, that the school should make long-term goals for facilities, and that trustees should consider evaluating scholarship policy. As tuitions increase, Brown said schools have helped lower-income students by offering more need-based scholarship. But he said this practice has left middle-class students who don’t quite make the cut for need-based scholarships to struggle with tuition costs.

Colorado Mesa also should diligently continue to work on its transition into university status, Brown said. Even though the school’s name changed last year, Brown said there’s more work to be done, based on his observations as president of UNC when it was getting used to its new name. Brown said universities demand more of their faculty and he recommended CMU trustees consider what may happen if there are more demands for the school to expand athletic, classes or research.

“There’s a need for a research university on the Western Slope,” Brown said.

Colorado Mesa Trustee Dan Robinson said he’s interested in the idea of Colorado Mesa becoming more of a research institution.

“I think we would benefit from that,” he said.

Robinson said he also took note of Brown’s message about trustees taking more responsibility during the transition to a university. “Things are moving very fast and the board needs to keep up,” he said.

Lena Elliott, chair of the university’s board of trustees, said Brown is a “pillar of higher education” and she appreciated his visit with the board.


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