CU President Bruce Benson chats with Jane Schumaker, executive director of University Physicians, Inc., before his Town Hall address at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus on Wednesday, April 8. Photos by Matt Kaskavitch, University Communications.

By Chris Casey | University Communications

AURORA, Colo.—Collaboration and the collective strength of the University of Colorado—and the goal to keep driving those qualities forward—were themes in CU President Bruce Benson’s Town Hall at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus on Wednesday.

A nearly full house in the Hensel Phelps Auditorium listened to Benson’s address, which highlighted the many accomplishments and innovations of the university, as well as the continuing struggle to secure education funding. Colorado ranks 48th nationally in per-student state funding for higher education.

Despite the challenges, Benson conveyed optimism in all facets of the university, commended the many CU Anschutz enterprises, and urged everyone to keep up their outstanding work. “I think vision is really simple,” he said. “I just want to make this one of the greatest universities in the world, so let’s just keep on working on it and we will get that done. I look at everything that’s coming out of here … It’s just an unbelievable place.”

Benson touched on a range of issues in his 40-minute talk—including advances in clinical care and research, the School of Medicine’s growing branch in Colorado Springs, transportation upgrades, and the Liniger Building at CU South Denver—and he got one of the loudest ovations when he mentioned the sale in the past year of the former health sciences campus at 9th and Colorado, which will be redeveloped into a mixed-use neighborhood. “It was my favorite stone around my neck when I got here (seven years ago),” he said, tongue-in-cheek. “But it is done and it’s moving forward.”

Room for expansion

On real-estate matters in Aurora, meanwhile, the Anschutz Medical Campus is already facing some overcrowding issues, he said. Campus leadership is working with the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority to acquire a piece of land “so we’ll have more room for expansion” at CU Anschutz, Benson said.

The president highlighted his leadership team at CU Anschutz, including Chancellor Don Elliman and Vice President for Health Affairs Lilly Marks, and took the opportunity to welcome new CU School of Medicine Dean and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs John Reilly, MD, (at left) who started on April 1. “I think you’re going to be a great dean for the School of Medicine,” Benson said, adding his thanks to “the legend,” Richard Krugman, MD, who served as SOM dean for more than 24 years. He also remarked on the tireless contributions of CU First Lady Marcy Benson and the strong collaborations CU Anschutz enjoys with partners including Children’s Hospital Colorado and University of Colorado Health. In regard to the latter, Benson said, “You’re going to see a lot of big, big moves in the University of Colorado hospital system.”

He noted that CU’s overall administrative cost structure is 37 percent below peer institutions, while the university gets only about 5 percent to 6 percent of its total budget from the state. Benson said Wisconsin is looking at a $300 million cut to higher education over the next two years. CU ran the numbers, comparing full-time-equivalent per-student funding at the flagship campuses of Madison and Boulder, and found that, “even after that change, their (funding per student) is twice ours.”

He said CU as a whole is expected to receive a $17 million increase in state funding next year, which is helping the university keep tuition increases to the lowest levels in a decade. Meanwhile, contributions to the university are at all-time highs. CU recently restructured its fundraising enterprise, Benson said, moving most employees of the CU Foundation into university operations. Last year CU raised just over $298 million—up $40 million from 2013—and this year “we’re sitting at $300 million and we have three months to go.”

Benson said he is continuing his commitment to increase funding for scholarships that encourage diversity at CU Anschutz. He said about a third of the School of Medicine’s students are from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine, which includes students from rural areas that have a profound need for physicians and other health care professionals. “It’s a huge movement forward,” Benson said.

He highlighted the great medical strides being made at the CU Cancer Center, in Alzheimer’s research and in stem cell regeneration. This week, CU Anschutz opened the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility, which promises to greatly speed up “getting the stem cell innovations from the research bench to the bedside,” Benson said.

State funding challenges

Benson noted that clinical revenue growth at University Physicians, Inc., which supports the clinical practice of the School of Medicine, has been strong, increasing an average of $65 million annually for the past three years; this year revenue totals about $621 million. Research revenue is also up this year; CU as a whole has generated about $871 million in research funding, with CU Anschutz accounting for about $425 million. “It’s a huge operation here—give yourselves some applause.”

But state funding challenges, including the refunds required by the state constitution’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights when revenues exceed TABOR limits, continue to be a major concern. Benson said the state gets significant revenues from the Hospital Provider Fee, which was enacted in 2009 to help finance the expansion of Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus. While revenue from the fee counts toward the TABOR limit, most of the funds—after being matched by federal money—goes back to hospitals and Medicaid recipients. “We don’t think (the fee revenues) should be in the TABOR calculations,” Benson said. “We think the fee money should be put in an enterprise status.”

Such a move, which requires legislative action, would effectively make more general fund money available to education and human services—areas that typically get cut when TABOR refunds kick in. The refunds amount to a 10 percent to 15 percent state-funding hit to CU, Benson said, “which is starting to be some pretty serious money. So we’ve got to look at this and see what we can do.”

He said other positive developments include a retooling of the employee retirement plans, soon-to-launch improved online education offerings, and the new Liniger Building at CU South Denver. On the latter topic, an audience member asked how the university came to possess the “wonderful facility.” Benson explained that it was a $40 million gift, a record property donation for the university. The university invested about $3 million for renovations and classroom space in the facility that’s “going to be a great educational opportunity for the citizens of Colorado.”

Also, CU will soon launch a systemwide marketing campaign. Benson urged the crowd to refer to the campus as the “University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus” or “CU Anschutz” to help with its promotion. He said the identity issue was high on his radar after a relative asked him if CU doctors ever collaborated with those on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Benson said he wants all Coloradans and people beyond to know of the institution’s powerful impact. He said the high-profile marketing effort will amplify this message. “It’s important that everybody knows what we are doing and how it will pay off many-fold in the long run.”

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