Conversations with the Chancellor: Congressman Joseph D. Neguse

Conversations with the Chancellor:  Congressman Joseph D. Neguse

Hello and welcome to Conversations
with the Chancellor. There’s a lot of discussion in the country today about
education: the cost, the value and the future role of universities. With me
today to discuss these issues is CU Boulder alum Congressman Joe Neguse.
Congressman Neguse earned both his undergraduate and law degrees at CU. He
served as student government president and is a former member of the Board of
Regents. Congressman, welcome. It’s great to be back. Thank you, Chancellor, for having me. Our pleasure. So, why don’t you tell us a
little bit about your background. Yeah, so, I grew up in Colorado, spent almost my
whole life here. Grew up in Highlands Ranch, Littleton. Went to CU Boulder, as you
mentioned, for my undergraduate degree and then worked for about a year at the
state capitol, a little less, for the speaker of the House, and then from there I went to
law school here at CU, so a double Buff, which I’m very proud of. And after I
graduated from law school I practiced law for a number of years at a Denver
firm and then finally had an opportunity to serve in the governor’s cabinet.
Governor Hickenlooper appointed me back in 2015 to run our state’s Consumer
Protection Department. And then from there I ran for Congress and got elected
last year, so I’ve been serving since January of this year. That’s great, and
the university is so proud of you and your accomplishments. You know, one of my
strategic imperatives is to shape tomorrow’s leaders. Could you talk a
little bit about how CU shaped you as a leader? Yeah, very much so, I mean the
university had a great deal of impact in terms of, you know, my success and my
ability to be able to serve in public office. You know it starts probably with
my experiences when I was an undergraduate in student government. It
gave me the chance at a very young age to get a sense of what self-governance
looks like and ways in which we could be impactful and have an impact in a
tangible way on students’ lives, working and building a team. What do you think is
the biggest issue facing higher education today? I would say, just
baseline, I’ve always believed that higher education is a public good, and I
think about what public higher education has done for my family and, as you know,
Phil, the son of immigrants, and so my parents came here with very little, but
thanks to the incredible freedoms and the
opportunities that we have in the United States, they were able to make it and
to live the American dream. From my perspective we ought to do everything we
can to make sure that dream is accessible to, you know, everybody in this
country so that more people can have experiences that I did at the University
of Colorado and so many other students who come through these doors are able to
have. Absolutely, and you know there’s, as you said, a lot of discussion about the
cost of higher education today and the value on it, and, you know, how as a nation
should we be dealing with the high cost of higher education given all of the
benefits that you mentioned one gets out of being a college graduate? You know, I
think we have to be prepared as a community, as a locality, a municipality, a
county, a state, a country, as a society, to make the appropriate investments. I think
at the federal level there’s more that we could do. We’re pushing, and I
certainly am an advocate for increasing Pell grant funding, by way of example. But
then also at the state level we’ve got to be willing to make the appropriate
investments, and I just think we’ve not done that, obviously, as you know. Colorado
has been, historically the funding level for our universities has
been very low. That is starting to change, and I’m very grateful for that. Also I
would say we’re gonna need institutions to show leadership, and you know, you all,
I’d be curious if you’d share a little bit about what you’ve done recently
because it’s something that I was an advocate for many years when I was on
the Board of Regents and it has finally come to fruition, which I’m very excited about. So
you know one of the things that we’re doing is guaranteed tuition for our
resident undergraduates. So the way it works is, a freshman comes in and pays
tuition and fees that do not go up at all for four years. So for four years
that student will pay the same tuition. The other thing that we did, and you’ll
probably remember how we used to do course and program fees. We eliminated
that two years ago and it saved students close to 10 million dollars.
And so we actually this past year saw tuition and fees drop for students. Wow!
And that was a decision that I didn’t make but our deans made, and I was very
proud of them to take that initiative. The other, again, that you might
remember is we started a program called Esteemed Scholars. We want to keep the best
students in the state, we want them to go to the University of Colorado so that
they can give back to the state, so that they can become productive citizens and
add to the economy. And right now we have about 21 percent of our
undergraduates who are Esteemed Scholars, and these are in the top 5 percent. That’s
about one-fifth, that’s an incredible number. Exactly, it’s very encouraging that we’re
keeping the best students in state. I think we’re doing an incredible job of
keeping tuition low and making sure that our students graduate in four years.
The fact that you’re able to make the promise about the guarantee, particularly
in a time of such great economic uncertainty. The fact that families have
certainty with respect to that piece of the funding makes a lot of sense. So with the changes in society, technology, access to information, dropout
billionaire CEOs, why is higher education still important? It’s a good question. I’m
not a billionaire, as you know, Phil, so I don’t, maybe I’m the wrong person to ask,
but you know my sense of it is this. There are so many residual benefits that
come from public higher education in terms of the impact it has on, you know
individuals’ lives and their families and, you know, climbing up the economic ladder.
It’s the one ticket to upward economic mobility in my view, but also, you know,
the benefits it has to society writ at large. The technological advances, the
patents that come out of institutions like the University of Colorado, and I
think if you ask most folks who have had the opportunity that I’ve had to get
a four-year degree or also to potentially go to graduate school, that
they would, generally speaking, say the same thing. That’s great, and I hope your
1-year-old daughter will also become a Buff. Well, you know, we represent CU and CSU, so I’m not going to pick.
But my wife wants her to go to CU. Congressman, I really want to
thank you for all that you’ve done. I look forward to watching
your career move forward and look forward to working with this year. Well, thank you, Chancellor, for your leadership
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over these many years on this campus, and I hope you’ll relay my gratitude to the many deans and faculty
members and instructors and so many others who I think are having a profound
impact on countless students each and every day and excited to partner with
you all in those efforts. Thank you all for watching, and go Buffs!

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