By Tony Frank and Philip P. DiStefano
September 16, 2011


It’s a Colorado tradition for the ages: The Colorado State University Rams and University of Colorado Buffaloes have been facing off in the state’s greatest football rivalry since 1893. While the Cinch Jeans Rocky Mountain Showdown is always a blockbuster game, the real importance of this longstanding Colorado tradition is not which team wins, it’s the opportunity to celebrate all that Colorado gains as home to two of our nation’s leading public research universities.

Colorado is fortunate to have a network of 28 public colleges and universities, with campuses both large and small that provide the educational framework to meet the diverse higher education and workforce training needs of people of all ages and interests across our state. Within this mix, CU’s Boulder campus and CSU’s Fort Collins campus play a central and vital role. These two proud and historic campuses enroll and graduate the majority of Colorado undergraduate and graduate students each year. In fact, a combined total of more than 45,000 Colorado residents were enrolled last year.

These students receive cutting- edge instruction and engage in learning experiences that are preparing them to serve as Colorado’s skilled workforce of tomorrow. On both campuses they interact with world-class faculty in the classroom and in the laboratory, and then put that knowledge to work serving communities all over Colorado and the nation.

Our faculty members at both campuses represent a critical center of our state’s intellectual capital. The research funding we generate together exceeds $500 million annually — money that, in turn, injects millions into Colorado’s economy for equipment, materials and services, and that yields discoveries and innovations that transform the marketplace and all our lives.

We partner directly with each other on research in such critical areas as renewable energy, water resources, space science, optical physics and geosciences, and we each generate research partnerships with other universities around the world and with private-sector partners throughout Colorado. These efforts spin off new companies, create jobs and have a real and lasting impact in a wide variety of industries and in every corner of the state.

At both CU and CSU, most of our students go on to join the Colorado workforce after graduation, and the latest data on unemployment and educational attainment show that those with a four-year college education are far less likely to face unemployment and far more likely to contribute productively to a healthy state economy. A person who graduates from one of our state universities with a bachelor’s degree will earn, over a lifetime, an average of $1 million more than someone with only a high-school diploma.

We think this is a great return on investment for state taxpayers. However, leaders at both CSU and CU recognize that we, like so many Colorado families, must make do with less. In recent years both universities have made strategic cuts and aggressively sought operating efficiencies. Today, CU’s administrative costs are 44 percent less than our peer universities’ costs. Administrative and operational expenses at CSU are 54 percent less than peer institutions, and that contributes to the fact that the cost to educate a student at the university is lower today on an inflation-adjusted basis than it was 20 years ago.

As fans of both teams can tell you, a victory in the Rocky Mountain Showdown is no guarantee of a winning season to come. But maintaining a system of healthy, competitive research universities is a long-term win for all of us who call Colorado home.

Philip P. DiStefano is the chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder, and Tony Frank is the president of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.