Lesley Smith: I will fight for an affordable CU education
October 26, 2018
The University of Colorado system is Colorado’s third largest employer and contributes $12 billion to the state’s economy, affecting all Coloradans. The Board of Regents hires CU’s president and manages the budget, including tuition.
My name is Lesley Smith, and I'm running for CU regent at large as a pragmatic Democrat. I've spent my entire career working in Colorado higher education, with 30 years experience as an educator and scientist at CU.
I also served eight years on my local school board, managing a superintendent and a $400 million budget, a very similar role to regent. I have led in my field of science education and in 1980 became the first woman aquanaut to live and work in the Aquarius underwater research lab. My education leadership experience makes me exceptionally qualified to tackle the serious challenges facing CU, including rising tuition and gaps in graduation rates for Latino and black students.
As our flagship university, CU should be accessible and affordable for every single student with the motivation to succeed, but for too many Colorado families, CU is out of reach.
In 2000, the state covered two-thirds of the cost of college, while students and families were responsible for one-third. Today, that ratio has flipped. If we want to maintain our highly educated workforce and do right by our in-state students, the Legislature should reverse this public defunding of higher education. I will advocate for restoring funding to pre-recession levels.
There are several actions the board can take to make CU more affordable in the meantime. For one, CU Boulder recently dropped class fees and implemented guaranteed tuition, in which tuition stays constant during a student's college career. I would like to see these changes implemented at the other three campuses.
I also think it's a positive step for CU to offer alternative models of delivering an education, such as online learning. Online learning has the potential to bring quality, effective and affordable higher education to far more students if implemented carefully and thoughtfully. Plus, it allows rural students to receive an education from our flagship university while remaining in their communities.
CU has made progress in closing gaps in recruitment and graduation rates for Latino and black students, but there's still work to do. Fostering partnerships with more diverse educational institutions to provide bridges to CU can help enroll more diverse students, and once on campus, increased academic, mental health and mentoring is needed to help students thrive.
Last but not least, the next Board of Regents will hire a new CU president for the first time in a decade. If elected, I will be the only regent with faculty experience — a critical perspective when considering our new hire.
I decided to run for regent because higher education gave me the opportunity to pursue my dreams of teaching science and aquatic research. We need a CU system that gives every hardworking student that same opportunity to pursue their dreams.
University of Colorado regent at large Democratic candidate