CU-Boulder and the knowledge economy

Dean Pic

By Steven R. Leigh

Signs of strong economic growth are readily evident along the Front Range, with significant increases across many sectors of our region’s economy. CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business Confidence Index continues to predict economic growth in Colorado, confirming observations of seemingly never-ending construction and other kinds of development in our region.

Our college sees tremendous opportunities for our students and alums in today’s economy. We can proudly say that our newest students are embedded in one of the most dynamic economies in the country, if not the world. The Boulder area has recently attracted significant media attention for its high-tech or “knowledge” industries, and is now seen as model for other areas of the country. Software development and computer science are among the most exciting sectors. A great diversity of digital companies, from the iconic IBM, to Google, to countless small startups, collectively have huge impacts on our area, with national and global consequences.

Local industries benefit from CU-Boulder because of the broad array of intellectual and creative talent in our college. Our students benefit through internship and employment opportunities. In fact, CU-Boulder is extraordinarily well-suited to help support the new knowledge economy because our so many of our strengths are concentrated in areas that drive this kind of economy.

This exhilarating new “ecosystem” provides special opportunities for the college to engage with industries, and in many cases, we can help develop novel industries and economic activities. Local industries benefit from CU-Boulder because of the broad array of intellectual and creative talent in our college. Our students benefit through internship and employment opportunities. In fact, CU-Boulder is extraordinarily well-suited to help support the new knowledge economy because our so many of our strengths are concentrated in areas that drive this kind of economy. Moreover, our location and scope as a mid-sized yet comprehensive research-intensive university confer advantages. For example, CU-Boulder can bring its strengths in terms of faculty, students and staff directly to our economy, without the logistic complications that confront many peer universities that concentrate on agricultural advancement. Our location and scope promote close and sustained collaborations with local businesses and ventures.

Our college has responded to the knowledge economy by continuing to develop new and exciting majors, minors and certificates, conferring our students with competitive advantages based on rigorous academic training and remarkable curricular breadth. For example, our new computer science degree has attracted significant attention from Colorado startups and other businesses, including those in Silicon Valley. We have graduated our first class in the computer science major, and surprisingly, we doubled our majors from about 220 to more than 450 for the current academic year. These students generally combine the new major with a traditional liberal arts discipline, giving them creative capacities that will define jobs and industries that no one has yet conceptualized. We have outstanding opportunities to recruit the best students in the world to be a part of this major transformation. A focus on students helps remind us that the state of Colorado, our supporters and local industry must understand how much our ability to contribute to this economy relies on maintaining affordable and responsible tuition levels.

Our entire campus benefits from engagement with our new economy. For example, this new economy requires deep engagement with the arts, artists and cultural resources. Knowledge-economy employees demand assets such as the CU Art Museum, local galleries featuring CU artists, the College of Music and our Colorado Shakespeare Festival. These entities provide exceptional cultural opportunities for us to experience and be inspired by our community’s creativity. The college’s arts units provide necessary engagement and outlets for participants in this new kind of economy, not to mention unparalleled training opportunities for our students and residents across the region.

The knowledge economy will not reach its potential unless the core academic missions of the college, both in terms of research and teaching, continue to advance. Moreover, we must be able to compete globally for the best students, staff, and faculty to match the dynamic qualities of our area. Such an economy, and the social and cultural benefits it can bring, cannot thrive without access to a top-ranked university. Enhancing academics, while continuing to play highly synergistic and complementary economic roles, is the ideal pathway to ensure the success of our campus, the region and, ultimately, the world.

Steven R. Leigh is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Oct. 9, 2014