By Sara Burnett
Stephen Jordan took the helm at Metro State in September 2005 with a 10-year vision for Metro State to become “the preeminent public urban baccalaureate college in the nation.”
Nearly five and a half years later, Jordan sat down to discuss the accomplishments, challenges and controversies of his presidency so far—and where he sees Metro State headed next. This is an edited transcript.
You’re just past the midway point of an ambitious 10-year plan. How do you think it’s going?
I think we’re making tremendous progress across a whole array of things. We’ve seen improvement in retention and we think we’ll soon be seeing that on the graduation side. [Our progress ranges] from our efforts around becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution and the growth around the number of students of color, to the building up of our capacities to reach out to the community and provide greater service-learning opportunities.
We’ve added a net of more than 200 tenure-track faculty—that’s something very few other institutions in the country can say. And our reputation in the community I think is really building up. So I’m pretty excited.
The budget situation has been particularly dire these past few years. What would you like to see happen with funding?
We’ve been consistently saying, you’ve got to recognize enrollment growth and there needs to be equity in funding among institutions that have like missions. We’re not saying we should be funded the same as CU or CSU. But we are saying that we absolutely have the same kind of mission and students that Adams State, CSU-Pueblo, Mesa and Fort Lewis [have]—and there’s no justifiable reason to say one institution should get four times the funding per student that this institution gets. So we’re simply saying you need to level the playing field. That’s the vision that we think is fair for all students.
When I arrived here we were the lowest-funded four-year institution in the state. In those early years we were successful in working with others in developing a funding formula that looked at a set of peer institutions, with a goal of getting every institution to the median of their peers in the dollars-per-student in funding. What it showed was we were the farthest away.
So in those first two years, while everybody got more money, we got a bigger increment than anybody else did, as did the community colleges. So we were making some progress. And then the recession hit, and we all went back to the 2005-06 level. What changed dramatically was that in that same time period, our enrollment grew by more than 20 percent, where many of those [other] institutions’ enrollments declined. So now what we have is they have the same money they had in 2005-06 but less students. We have the same money, but we have 20 percent more students.
So to say that this institution can figure out how to absorb that enrollment with literally no new funding and having started as the lowest-funded institution in the state is a pretty remarkable thing, and a real credit to the people of this campus.
Besides funding, will there be other pertinent issues in the legislature this session that will affect Metro State?
Absolutely. We’ll be watching the bill that would propose to provide Colorado’s version of the DREAM Act. This institution has consistently supported that in the past. In fact we may have been in many cases the only institution to support it.
There is a bill that would carry out the recommendations of the task force Gov. Ritter appointed to study higher education. We support many of those recommendations, and that’s a bill we really would like to see adopted and move forward.
One of the elements of the bill is that it’s time to relook at Auraria and decide: Is Auraria doing what we want it to do? Are there perhaps some changes that might allow it to be more effective? We would say the state has maximized the economic efficiencies of Auraria, but we think they’ve done it at the cost to students of some of the benefits they would see at other institutions that they don’t get here.
We think it’s time to begin rethinking whether all buildings ought to be shared buildings, or whether we could divvy up many of the buildings and create true ownership, so each institution decides how it wants to use them.
Do you envision a time when one of the three colleges isn’t here?
I think there have been opportunities to do that that the state has missed out on. For example, when CU moved [its medical school] to the Anschutz campus from 9th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, they sold that property for about $30 million. You can’t build a building here for less than $50 million. That was a great opportunity to rethink, could we have used that space, invested in that and benefitted the community that way? I think the answer could have been yes. Could the old Gates location (near Interstate 25 and Santa Fe Drive) become another space to do that? I think that’s something people ought to be thinking about. Because in some respects we have maximized this campus.
Would Metro State move?
Because Metro State’s the largest [institution on the Auraria campus] I don’t foresee that. On the other hand, if someone could make a really compelling case—if the state would make an investment at Santa Fe and I-25—would I consider it? Absolutely, I would. I don’t think you ever say absolutely not.
There are those who have said Metro State’s decision to begin granting master’s degrees is inconsistent with the role and mission of the College. Why did you ultimately support it?
Originally, it was pretty well known that I was opposed to having master’s degrees. [My support] really was only as a result of the work that was done by the Hispanic Serving Institution Task Force. One of their strategies of achieving HSI was to add master’s degrees. They got that because they went out and visited a number of existing HSIs, and one of the things they heard was that most master’s degrees have a number of courses that are [offered as dual enrollment – master’s level and upper-division undergraduate]. So you have undergraduate students who are upperclassmen in a class with a graduate student. And they’re sitting there thinking—well, if they can do that, I can do that. So it creates a positive role model, particularly for first-generation and students of color, that they’re capable of going on to graduate school.
We also looked at the current array of four-year public and private institutions in the U.S. who have more than 10,000 students. There are 276. Guess how many did not have a master’s degree? One. Does that suggest that we’re out of step?
A recent Faculty Senate survey found 51 percent rate your leadership as effective. What are your thoughts about that? What are you doing to improve it?
I think in some respects it’s a reflection of what we’ve been doing. I don’t think anyone comes in as the president or as the leader of any organization and tries to create a conscious strategy of change over time without having some people who are going to resist that change and some who are going to buy into it. I think the fact we actually have a cadre of people who are on board with what we’re trying to do is a pretty positive thing for us right now.
It also says we have more work to do. Our last Campus Climate Survey was in 1998. We made the commitment we were going to do it every two years and use a firm doing this in higher education so we could benchmark ourselves against others.
I have no illusions that two years from now we are going to be a best-practices college to work for. But I do think that two years from now we should see a positive movement in some of those indicators toward that goal.
How has the external perception of Metro State changed?
I think there’s been a huge shift. One of the things I think we’ve been successful with is the branding. The buzz that’s out there right now about Metro State is very significant. I also think there has been a significant shift in perceptions of students in what they think of this place and why they choose to come here, and in the attitudes of legislators about Metro State and what it does.
The name question plays into that. As we’ve done our homework about the name, we find the name is more of an inhibitor than a contributor to where we want to go.
What is your vision for next five years?
I don’t think that vision has changed at all. We’ve put in place a lot of initiatives, and in the next five years we’ve got to execute those in a meaningful way. The vision of preeminence—that’s still the same.
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