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CU president discusses his plans for the future

8:28 PM, Jul 16, 2010   |    comments
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"I'm a business man and a problem solver. I've done it for years," said Benson, president of the University of Colorado system since 2008.

With higher education facing financial trouble, CU has no shortage of problems after getting its state revenue slashed from $209 million three years ago.

"We're now getting ready for, I hate to say it, about $80 million and that's total support," Benson said.

That is why, whether he is at a regents meeting, or in his Denver office, Benson tries to build a sense of teamwork.

"No one knows all the answers, you know, a lot of us think we do," Benson said.

Together, he says, they have found ways to make CU's bureaucracy more efficient.

"It's a lot worse than I ever envisioned it to be, and you know, bad budgets make you do a lot of things you probably shouldn't have done anyway," Benson said.

He has cut costs, cut staff, and cut red tape throughout the university system.

"We cut out 8,000 forms per year.  Eight thousand. Think about the man hours," Benson said.

The bad news for students is that tuition will likely keep going up.

"Yes, I'm concerned about where we're going with funding," Benson told the regents at their June meeting.

A 9 percent tuition hike equals $30 million in additional revenue for CU. The university is increasing its available financial aid from $38 million to $111 million. That will enable CU to give out more loans to students, to make sure it is not just lower income families who can get the help.

"The half in the middle are the ones you got to worry about," Benson said.

One change that could help all of this is CU's move to the Pac-10.

"It's a much better fit," Benson said.

Benson says he heard last October that that the Pac-10 conference might be interested in CU. Instead of pushing the issue, Benson played it cool.

"You're better off to be wanted than to be the wanter and trying to push your way in, so we sat back," Benson said.

Benson says the historic deal was made just 72 hours before the official announcement.

"We did it all in about three days," Benson said.

Benson says it was not just for athletics.

"Where do we get donors, where do we recruit students, where do we recruit players, a whole lot of them right out of California. They're our number one state [outside of Colorado]," Benson said.

Benson believes going deeper into California will attract more Asian students. He wants to triple CU's international student population. He thinks all these things will generate revenue and launch the university into an era of expansion.

"This is a huge project. It's major, major for the state of Colorado," Benson said.

He is talking about the Anschutz medical campus in Aurora.

"It's going to be a health care city," Benson said.

The complex still has 200 acres of space to expand. Benson believes it is a project that will make the CU system into a big player nationwide in the biomedical industry.

"This is major to me on what we're being able to accomplish," Benson said.

Even with all that on his plate, this oil and gas man's biggest concern is low income minority students.

"What are we going to do in 2046 when the minority becomes the majority and they're not educated?" Benson said. "It's a really important issue to me."

He says we all need to work together to make sure everyone has access to college. Maybe that's why this conservative Republican tries to make friends with everybody, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Maybe that is why you can call him an enigma navigating the University of Colorado through troubled waters.

"It's a very frustrating job at times, but it's also very rewarding when you see good things happen," Benson said.

Benson just turned 72 on July 4. He says he's got plenty of years left to work at the University of Colorado.

"You just stay as long until they don't want me here any more or until I just feel like I don't think I can get any more done," Benson said.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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