In spite of losing more than a third of its state-budgeted appropriation since 2002, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs moves forward, undeterred. “We’re here to serve the students of the Pikes Peak region and southern Colorado,” says Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, “and we will find a way to maintain our programs and keep our doors open to those we serve.”

And Shockley-Zalabak is not about to settle for mediocrity in the process. “Our goal over the next ten years is to become the most comprehensive research university in the region,” she promotes, “and we have solid support from the Board of Regents.

“Many chancellors might have packed up and left town,” says Tom Hutton, UCCS director of communications, referring to the school’s 35 percent budget cut over the last three years. “Instead, Pam Shockley-Zalabak just stays focused on the future. She gets lots of credit for that.”

The decisions have been hard ones. Eight months ago, after sixteen meetings with campus and community groups, a broad consensus led Shockley-Zalabak to institute a temporary strategy of no raises for university staff or faculty while continuing to fill open positions. “Of course nobody’s happy about a freeze on salary increases, but UCCS is not laying anybody off. How many can say that?” says Hutton.

With an annual budget of $77.6 million approved for 2004, the university employs 292 full-time tenured faculty. To that, add another 180 adjunct or part-time instructors and 272 full-time staff. “That ratio is way under the norm for higher education,” Shockley-Zalabak adds. “At most universities, there are two staffers to every one full-time faculty member. We’re closer to a one-to-one ratio – which means we are operating at a very lean level.”

Layoffs might have been a strategy, but the educators and their community advisors worried that the fastest-growing campus in the CU system would have to reduce its service levels, cutting access to those who need it most.

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“The demographics for Denver and Boulder show that the average per capita income is almost $10,000 per household higher than for southern Colorado,” Shockley-Zalabak notes. With the state cutting student subsidies by more than 60 percent since 2001, from $4,498 to $2,820, special scholarship programs – often underwritten by private companies and individuals – augment federal and state student loan programs.

“We will see a $300 increase in tuition this year to approximately $3,000 for in-state students,” Shockley-Zalabak estimates. “In return, our financial aid office will use those funds to increase assistance to our region’s neediest students.” UCCS currently attracts the majority of its 7,500 students from south of Colorado Springs all the way to the New Mexico border. Out-of-state tuition remains about three times the rate for in-state students. “Perhaps surprisingly,” she says, “42 percent of our students receive no scholarship aid.”

That may be due to UCCS’ older-than-average students. Even with a growing number of 18-year-old freshmen enrolling, the average student profiles at 27.8 years of age.

With the campus dorms filled to capacity and another 300 apartment-style units breaking ground this fall, there will likely be a waiting list of graduate and senior-level students. In addition, another 150 out-of-state students remain on a waiting list as officials scramble to find room for more classes.

In a recent luncheon address, Rocky Scott, EDC president, cited the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs as one of the community’s most valuable assets. “As we move from a high-tech manufacturing base to a research and development hub,” Scott pointed out.

Other civic leaders, including Chamber CEO Will Temby, the mayor and Joseph Garcia, president of Pikes Peak Community College, see the state’s fastest-growing CU campus as a point of pride for the community. In addition to new programs and recent federal grants obtained by the university, they acknowledge important business-friendly initiatives such as the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, the Colorado Information Technology Transfer and Implementation center, a new biotechnology research program, and the new Network Information Space Security Center. The latter is funded by a $2 million federal Homeland Security grant.

Commercial realtor Steve Bach, a six-year member of the CU Foundation board, agrees.

As graduate of UCCS, the broker received help from the GI Bill after leaving the U.S. Army. He sees a growing need to attract and nurture future leaders – and believes business can help by providing full-ride scholarships. “I got three or four different scholarships and worked several jobs to get through school,” he says, “and I just try to pass it on.”

Bach and fellow CU Foundation board member Brenda Smith, managing partner for BKD, both fund full scholarships for several UCCS students.

“One of our highest priorities needs to be the replacement of 10,000 jobs lost over the last few years,” he says. “According to many of the corporations who have expanded or relocated here, the university is an essential resource for employee training and advanced education. It’s an investment in our own future.”

With more than $8 million chopped from the bottom line, financial aid to deserving students was also hit hard by the legislative ax.

“Fortunately,” says Shockley-Zalabak, “businesses, even with problems of their own, did not stop making scholarship contributions. Hewlett Packard and Agilent along with Penrose and Memorial hospitals all continue to provide tremendous funding for scholarships. In 2004, between $4 million and $5 million in non-federal or state scholarship assistance will be provided through private contribution.”

That investment seems likely to pay off. According to job placement statistics, health-related and teacher education graduates find ample job openings. “We place everyone we graduate in those areas. Our R.N. graduates receive an average of 2.7 offers per person,” she cites. Other growing departments include business (which now offers the new professional golf management degree program), geropsychology, and engineering.

Cost-cutting measures will continue, although the chancellor is optimistic that the economy will allow a return to increased funding for higher education. “Our biggest cost is our people,” she says. “We can’t keep up this cutting back forever.”

So far the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has seen a total of $69 million of new construction and capital projects approved – but $27.7 million worth were de-appropriated in 2003. The cutbacks affect renovation of Dwire Hall, a new engineering building, the Bethel project, and an approved science building.

“We took Bethel out of that equation when the Foundation acquired University Hall (the former 86,000-square-foot Compassion, International building). The nursing program will headquarter there. That helps as we can now use Cragmoor Hall and the modular buildings abandoned by Bethel for more classroom space. We can grow to 8,500 students with the space we now have.

Through it all, Shockley-Zalabak hopes for an economic turnaround in the next five years – and renewed funding for higher education. “This is certainly not the time to be negative about one of the community’s most important economic resources,” she concludes.