Perched atop a hill overlooking a small section of the over 3,000 mile-long Highway 50 sits the campus of Colorado State University-Pueblo. Since starting as a small, three-classroom junior college in vacant rooms of the Pueblo County Courthouse, the higher education institution of Pueblo has evolved into a 275-acre university campus with 17 buildings and state-of-the-art athletic facilities.
Throughout the years, the university has undergone a number of both subtle and dramatic changes. It has transformed from Southern Colorado Junior College to University of Southern Colorado to a member of the Colorado State University System, with a couple additional name changes peppered in between.
The university has had a strong impact on the community of Pueblo, both economically and spiritually. Students obviously bring revenue to the economy of the city and contribute as members of the society through the workforce and community involvement.
The city was unified in 2008 with the revival of the wrestling, women’s track and football programs. The football squad has progressed to be one of the most successful programs in the nation, which gives cause to rally around for students, alumni and community members alike.
On the surface, CSU-Pueblo has all the makings of a premier university: success in athletics, quality higher education, and a supportive community. What is it about the school, though, that leads to just a 63 percent retention rate?
Of all the students that were accepted to and attended CSU-Pueblo last year, 37 percent did not return. That number is alarmingly high, especially when considering the millions of dollars that the university has doled out in recent years to improve the campus.
Herein lies the problem: the university is spending money to improve the campus, but it is not spending money or time to improve the highly sought after “college experience.”
Why is the retention of students so difficult? Several factors create fundamental challenges for the university to retain and attract students such as campus offerings, location, and overall atmosphere of the school.
Location is one, if not the main detractor of the appeal of CSU-Pueblo. Take for example the on-campus residents living in the dorms or the campus apartments. If they wanted to travel off campus to do something, they would either have to drive, take a bus, or more than likely find a ride to get to the nearest attraction, such as the mall or a restaurant. Especially in the colder months of the year, there is nothing within reasonable walking distance of the isolated campus.
Having previously attended other colleges, I know that being able to get off campus, however brief, is an integral part in maintaining the “free” mentality that comes with setting out on your own and going to college.
That freedom can be experienced by simply taking a walk to a nearby eatery, a shopping center or grocery store, or even a bar to momentarily escape. Save the restaurant and bar at the Walking Stick golf course, the lack of anything of the sort within a five- or ten-minute walk that doesn’t involve traveling by foot along a major highway really hurts the stock of the university.
Many on-campus residents may have a car to solve such problems, but many also do not. That makes it particularly tough when the campus has a limited amount to offer both within its grounds and in the nearby vicinity.
Even a campus like Adams State, in the town of Alamosa with arguably much less to do than in Pueblo, has more surrounding it within walking distance, including fast food, diners, a bowling alley and a bar.
As for the CSU-Pueblo campus, its offerings are limited. Making the trip on foot to Jerry Murphy Blvd. is discouraging at best, and walking further into the Belmont district is a straight shot, but treacherous. Navigating to the main hubs (Dillon, Eagleridge) are all but impossible without a vehicle.
The amenities on the campus itself are also found to be few and far between. Sure, each dorm building has a lounge/recreation room, but unless you are a resident of the dorms you’re virtually not welcome, as it takes a key to get in.
The Occhiato University Center, which is scheduled to double in size with new renovations in the coming years, offers the bookstore, campus dining services, and a dungeon. Did I say dungeon? I meant basement/OUC underground, where some under-publicized events take place and where “The Cantina” dining area is hidden away.
Essentially, that is the extent of what the campus has to offer its students. There is no Student Union center that makes other colleges and universities so tightly knit. There is no “bar row” for the kids who want to have a “college experience” every night. There are relatively close “box stores” but in Pueblo these are meant for passersby on the interstate not for students to spend money and waste time. The lack of services like these is what really hurts the campus of CSU-Pueblo.
A lot of these things are not the fault of the university itself; everyone has to work with the land that exists. And, there is also an inevitable argument that producing amenities like these will cost more money, and thus raise tuition and student fees. I don’t think I’m alone in the thought process, though, that the university could benefit from adding these types of things, increasing cost, and becoming more selective than the 98 percent acceptance rate that is in place right now. Essentially, as a college student, you will be willing to pay for a higher quality institution and a higher quality experience. More services and things to do equal a higher cost which equals a higher will to pay for a higher quality of college life.
If the school wants to continue to expand and go where it wants to go, it must absolutely think about expanding and making the campus into more than just the buildings in which classes are held. It must turn into a community with traditions and with places to learn how to live outside of the classroom.
It works for other schools, why not this one?