Campus & Community

Inauguration panel discussion explores links between higher education, community building and democracy

As part of the Sept. 18 inauguration ceremonies installing her as the University of Denver’s 18th chancellor, Rebecca Chopp invited Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and higher education leaders from across the state to discuss access, changing student demographics, rising costs and the value of higher education in Colorado.

Moderated by Hancock, the panel included Chopp; Stephen Jordan, president of Metropolitan State University of Denver; Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College System; and Tim Foster, president of Colorado Mesa University.

Throughout the discussion, Chopp identified strong correlations between quality education and the preservation of a vibrant American democracy — the theme of her inaugural address later in the day. “Democracy is about building communities, debating our problems and striving to improve oneself and society,” she said.

The panelists agreed that recent rapid changes to the higher education landscape have resulted in daunting demographic and cost challenges.

Hancock noted that 92 percent of America’s population growth in the last decade has occurred in communities of color, underscoring the importance for colleges in Colorado to arm their students with the cultural competencies needed for success in today’s increasingly globalized society.

Jordan agreed. “A really great university has a responsibility to the city that it’s in to improve the social fabric,” he said. “The faces of our students should reflect the faces of our community, and the faces of our faculty should reflect the faces of our students.”

As Denver continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the panelists indicated that the time is ripe to reexamine how education plays a crucial role in providing access and opportunities for a wider range of Colorado’s diverse citizenry.

In a lightning round, Hancock turned the conversation toward what keeps each president up at night.

“I’m worried that our system is becoming bifurcated,” Jordan said. “The rich are going to one side and the poor to another. Students who go to more accessible colleges deserve the same quality of education as those that go to premier institutions.”

Added Chopp, “I’m worried that somewhere in the last 10 to 15 years, citizens in our country have begun to consider college [only] a private good. We must convince our country that we all need to invest in higher education to invest in our future.”

McCallin expressed concerns about affordability and “the public perception that the value of higher education has eroded, and that degrees are less marketable.”

The panelists agreed that at its heart, higher education is about raising citizens up to become more engaged community members and well-rounded thinkers — and that increasing access to higher education is key to Colorado’s civic and economic success.

“Democracy and education have gone hand in hand throughout our country’s history,” Chopp said. “Education is not only a private good, but a public good, and it should give our students the ability to drink deeply from the wells of life.”


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