The University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS) was our exchange team’s generous host yesterday. Of all the campuses the team have seen, this one felt most like a university in the UK. It is a 11,500 student campus institution that overlooks the city of Colorado Springs and has the magnificent Rocky Mountains in view. UCCS has grown by 45% in the last 10 years and has done what most UK higher education institutions want to do, and that is eliminate the BME attainment gap.
This is down to some innovative support programmes, strong leadership and great collaboration between academic and support staff. We met with the Chancellor who was inspiring, telling us that success is down to “faculty who teach well and who care about their students” and that, when students see possibilities they did not even know were there, they work harder. UCCS do a lot of work with widening participation.
Part of their success is that they employ a lot (1,400) students to do jobs on campus. Whilst not the most efficient model, UCCS are committed to employing students, as it strengthens belonging and community and helps their students develop leadership skills. The single biggest predictor of whether a student will graduate is if they have a job on campus.
Mountain Lion Connect
This is a system UCCS have bought (orgsync) to track student involvement in social and extra-curricular activities. Students swipe their card when they attend a student meeting, go to an event, or take an extra-curricular course. This is a cloud-based system but it allows UCCS to track engagement and act accordingly if extra help needs to be offered. It is also a co-curricular transcript for the student (similar to HEAR). They are also now working with faculty to track academic engagement using the same system.
Gateway Program Seminars
This is a series of programmes designed to help first year students succeed in university life. Once again we heard how students on scholarships are mandated to do these extra courses to help them develop resilience and the higher education social skills they may lack but it is open to all and provides students with extra credits.
This is their leadership programme, which is open to all and has proved very popular across all academic areas. The four components are Training, Academic Coursework, Mentoring (by a staff member or a community leader) and Experience (akin to a placement but leading one of the 160 societies on campus helps). Again this is very collaborative with both academic and student support staff delivering the programme.
The exchange team also saw their sports pitch built on top of their new car park, which is an innovative use of space, heard that they are developing a Wellness Centre with health, counselling, nutrition and health promotion moving to their Recreation Centre (sports centre), and we all simulated an exercise where we ‘took down’ a gunman. The critical incident training that students can choose to do no longer says negotiate, but if running and hiding do not work then tackling the danger / taking action as a group is the best tactic to save lives.