Candidate (now Regent) Lesley Smith's Statement of Issues

(These are the issues as taken from candidate Lesley Smith's website Lesley for CU)


For most students, rising tuitions are the largest obstacle to a CU education. In 2000, the state covered two-thirds of the cost of college, while students and families were responsible for one third. Resident tuition and fees at CU Boulder were just $3,188. Today, the state covers only a third while students pay for two-thirds, and tuition and fees have quadrupled to $12,602.

Colorado ranks 48th in the country in funding for higher education with CU getting just 5% of its budget from the state. If we want to maintain our highly educated workforce and do right by our residents, we must reverse this public defunding of higher education. I have always been an advocate for public funding of higher education, and I will push the legislature to restore funding to pre-recession levels as your Regent.

That being said, there are several actions the Board can take to ease the financial burden on our students.

Guaranteed Tuition

In 2016, CU Boulder instituted guaranteed tuition for resident students. Tuition for incoming freshmen this fall will remain locked in at the same rate for four years, giving families the predictability they need to plan for the significant expense of college. I would like to see CU offer this across all four campuses so that families can plan ahead rather than being surprised by 4, 5, and 6% increases each year.

No Hidden Class Fees

CU Boulder also recently removed class fees, which are not published on the website that lists tuition and mandatory fees. Students typically don't see these until they get their bill. These fees add up and can be particularly onerous for STEM students, rising to $1,000 per year or more. As with guaranteed tuition, I would like to see CU lift these fees for students at all four campuses.


Some have argued that fixing inefficiencies and cutting waste in CU's budget could significantly lower tuition. This is just not true. While the Board should always be looking for ways to streamline the budget, those minor adjustments will only help at the margins. That being said, I managed a $400 million budget while serving on the Boulder Valley School Board and had to grapple with the difficult decision of how to cut the budget 10% during the Great Recession. I will bring a fresh set of eyes to examine the $4.5 billion CU Budget to help prioritize spending and determine if further efficiencies can be realized.


As Colorado's flagship university system, CU should be accessible for students from every corner of the state and for students transferring from other institutions, including community colleges. Recent actions to make CU more accessible are encouraging and continuing that work would be a focus of mine on the Board.

Community College Transfers

In the United States, more than 50% of college students begin at community colleges, which offer a more affordable education and allow students to remain in their communities. When those students decide to transfer to CU, the process should be seamless. However, in many cases course credits do not transfer, sometimes even after students have been told they would. They end up having to pay twice for the same class, possibly delaying their degree completion or making a CU degree unattainable. CU should provide better counseling to community college students considering a transfer, and I would be open to revisiting transfer agreements between CU and other schools to streamline the process.

Partnering with Non-CU Institutions

CU has formed partnerships with several non-CU institutions to allow students to get a CU degree while attending school elsewhere in Colorado. At Colorado Mesa University (CMU), engineering students in a 2 + 2 program take classes from CMU professors for their first two years, and from CU professors living in Grand Junction during their last two years, graduating with a CU engineering degree without ever leaving the Western Slope. Western Colorado University recently instituted a similar program, and as your Regent I would strongly consider additional partnerships to let students throughout Colorado graduate with a degree from the state's flagship university. This is a win-win-win for CU, students, and local communities.

Distance learning

CU will need to be on the cutting edge of educational program delivery in order to attract both traditional and non-traditional students in the future. Increasing its online course offerings is one way to accomplish this. CU's online courses are taught by regular CU faculty, setting it apart from most other universities. Most of CU's 65,000 full-time students already take some of their classes online. CU has a robust online platform, CUConnect, with an additional 7,000 students pursuing CU degrees by taking only online courses. Additionally, CU is about to launch the nation's first Master's Degree Program in Computer Science through a MOOC (massive open online course). I applaud CU's efforts to increase its online course offerings, though as Regent I will be mindful of the balance between providing students a brick & mortar education versus an online one.

A New President For CU

CU President Bruce Benson has announced that he will retire in 2019, which means the next Board of Regents will choose his replacement. The President is the Board's only direct hire, and is responsible for hiring the four campus chancellors and overseeing the University’s operations.

During my time on Boulder Valley School Board, I hired two school district superintendents, a process somewhat similar to hiring a new University President. If elected to the Board, I would be the only Regent with faculty experience, a crucial perspective when considering who to hire as CU's next President.

CU's next President should be a visionary leader who can collaborate with the University's diverse stakeholders and be an effective advocate for public and private funding for CU. In my view, competitive candidates would have significant experience in Colorado, in order to understand our unique funding challenges, as well as significant experience working in systems of higher education.

Graduation Rate gaps for Black and Latinx Students

CU graduates 62 % of its students of color, vs 69% of white students. There are many reasons why a student may not complete their degree, such as finances, family obligations; mental health issues, and frustration due to the need to take remedial classes. All students experience these issues but CU should be aware of the particular obstacles Black and Latinx students face and take action to address them so that all students have the same chance to succeed at CU.

Fostering partnerships with more diverse educational institutions to provide support and bridges to CU is one way to help enroll more diverse students and help them thrive. I will promote a culture of non-discrimination to protect the civil rights of every student, and would like to see increased academic, mental health and mentoring support to increase retention and graduation rates for Black and Latino students.

Other steps CU can take to try and close the graduation gap:
  • Providing better advising to transfer students from community colleges so they are taking the courses that will count toward their major at CU.

  • Using apps that track student attendance, completion of homework, and test scores in combination with an advisor that reaches out to them to inquire why they aren’t thriving.

  • Working with students to declare a major early and providing career counseling to help them match coursework to desired career. Faculty and Graduate Student Recruitment and Retention

Faculty and Graduate Student Recruitment and Retention

CU tenured and non-tenured faculty and graduate students are the drivers of CU's mission - education and research, but with declining state funding for CU, today CU Boulder gets only 5% of its budget from the Legislature. Consequently, faculty and graduate student salaries and benefits are not competitive compared to many other universities, especially those in the PAC 12. Add to this the prohibitive cost of housing along the Front Range, and the high cost of childcare for young families, and it's no wonder CU struggles to attract and retain the very best people. As I did when I was on the school board, I would work with our Legislators to increase the level of financial support for CU to drive down tuition and increase faculty and graduate student pay.