Spotlight: University of Colorado Denver
April 28, 2014 09:00 AM
The motto of the School of Public Affairs is “Lead. Solve. Change.” It simply and powerfully expresses the vision of providing excellent student programs, valuable research and important service to Colorado and beyond. CU Denver's mission is to train the leaders for Colorado’s future, and to utilize faculty research and the applied research and leadership programs of the Buechner Institute for Governance to help solve problems.
In the 40 years since the School of Public Affairs opened on the University of Colorado Denver campus, more than 4,000 alumni have earned MPA degrees and have gone on to work in Colorado, across the nation and around the world.
Now rated 29th by U.S. News and World Report, the School of Public Affairs has particular strengths in environmental policy (ranked 10th), and nonprofit management and policy (14th). CU Denver also provides an online MPA that has served students for more than a decade and is highly rated for quality and affordability by various consumer websites.
In addition to the MPA degree, SPA offers a Ph.D. in public affairs, and both a master’s and bachelor’s in criminal justice. All are available fully online or hybrid, except for the Ph.D. The school serves about 800 students per year across all four programs.
CU Denver focuses their resources in a few key policy and management areas—environment, nonprofit, education, and local government.
In a state whose citizens are very focused on environmental issues, SPA stands out. The University's #10 ranking was achieved through a combination factors: excellent faculty, a rigorous MPA concentration, the contributions provided by the Wirth Chair, the stimulating programs offered through the Workshop on Policy Process Research and the success of alums. Associate Professor Tanya Heikkila, for example, focuses on water policy issues. She is researching the political coalitions around hydraulic fracturing in Colorado and other states with a Sloan Foundation grant, and is examining urban sustainability futures with a PIRE grant from the National Science Foundation.
Associate Professor Chris Weible works with Heikkila on the Sloan and PIRE projects, and also has an NSF grant to study how organic agriculture is regulated. MPA program alumni such as Mike King, the director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, lead the state forward, and in King’s case, also teach in our program.
The endowed Wirth Chair, named after the former Colorado U.S. Senator and vice chair of the U.N. Foundation, has fostered sustainability research for 20 years. Former occupants of the chair have included former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart and Alice Madden, who is now deputy assistant secretary of energy in Washington, D.C. Current Wirth Chair Mark Safty bring 25 years of experience in renewable energy law and financing, and focuses resources on convening key actors and resolving difficult environmental problems.
In the nonprofit area, Assistant Professor Danielle Varda has developed a new tool (PARTNER) for assessing social network relationships among key organizations trying to solve problems collaboratively. With grants from the Robert Wood Johnson, CDC, U.S. HHS and other organizations, Varda works with dozens of organizations to better assess the success of their collaborative efforts. Her Network Leadership Training Academy, which is part of the school's Research Program on Collaborative Governance, trains dozens of public and nonprofit leaders each year in these new and innovative tools.
In a city and state teeming with education policy reforms, SPA is the go-to place in Colorado for objective policy analysis. The Ford Foundation has supported Assistant Professor Todd Ely in his studies of the financial arrangement in extended learning time. Distinguished Professor Paul Teske continues to work on school choice and portfolio models of urban districts. CU Denver's Center for Education Policy Analysis has provided state studies of financial resources, social impact bonds, teacher evaluation, institutional models for school turnarounds, online learning, impacts of charter schools on districts, and more in projects funded by the Walton Family Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Fordham Institute and others.
CU Denver has a MPA concentration in local government and a Center for Local Government Research and Training. Assistant Professor Benoy Jacob leads this Center and it has projects working with the Colorado Municipal League on local government financial indicators, and with the Denver Regional Council of Governments in assessing the benefits of transit-oriented development.
CU Denver is proud of all of its alums, and several have achieved distinction in public service. The Mayor of Denver, Michael Hancock, earned his MPA from SPA in 1995. The governor’s deputy chief of staff, Jamie Van Leeuwen, has a CU Denver Ph.D. The president of Metro State University of Denver, Stephen Jordan, also has a Ph.D. from the school. U.S. Senator Mark Udall and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar went through our Denver Community Leadership Forum program.
SPA has also been fortunate to have been the editorial home for the Public Administration Review (2005-2011 under Professor Richard Stillman) and the Policy Studies Journal (2009-present under Associate Professor Chris Weible).
For the future, CU Denver hopes to increase outreach efforts to help inform Colorado citizens and policy makers, as well as to leverage academic research to help solve applied policy problems.