APS, CSU-Global partnership could provide Aurora students a world of opportunity

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AURORA | New schools and better technology aren’t the only additions slated for Aurora Public Schools in the coming years, should voters approve a proposed $300 million bond package this November.

Also part of the planned package of enhancements for APS is the solidification of a new partnership with Colorado State University-Global Campus, a fully online institution under the purview of the Colorado State University system.

Founded in 2007, CSU-Global is a wholly separate entity from CSU’s other campuses in Fort Collins and Pueblo. However, the university is governed by the state system’s 15-member board of governors.

If Aurora voters approve the APS bond package on Election Day, the district is tentatively planning to construct a new, three- or four-story office building to house CSU-Global’s administrative team, according to APS Superintendent Rico Munn. The district would retain ownership of the building, but the university would pay in-kind lease payments to APS by offering scholarships and programs to current APS students, Munn said.

“The deal we’re hoping to negotiate … could make college really affordable, if not free, for a significant set of our students,” said Munn, who has served on the state university’s board as a vice chair for about the past three years.

If brought to fruition, the new partnership could be one of the first such agreements in the state.

Munn said a potential agreement could result in essentially three avenues for the APS community: Tuition assistance for district graduates, professional development for APS staffers and additional technological resources for current students.

He added that the new facility would be located behind Pickens Technical College on Airport Boulevard. Construction costs could range from $6 million to $10 million, and would be covered by bond dollars, according to Munn.

While the plan is contingent on voters passing the APS bond package next month, CSU-Global — the first state university in the country to exist entirely online — has already presented APS with a proposed memorandum of understanding, according to Kim Casey, spokeswoman for CSU-Global.

Plans for the partnership began prior to Munn’s tenure with APS, when former APS Superintendent John Barry suggested the district pursue recruiting a new higher education institution to the city.

After joining APS in the summer of 2013, Munn discussed such a partnership with Becky Takeda-Tinker, president of CSU-Global. (Munn has since recused himself from any CSU board matters pertaining to the APS/CSU-Global agreement.)

However, the talks between Munn and Takeda-Tinker ended in a state of limbo as Colorado law did not officially dictate whether such an arrangement would be legal.

“It was just kind of an unanswered question — not prohibited but not expressly authorized anywhere,” Munn said.

But those quagmires were clarified at the Colorado State Capitol earlier this year, when state Sen. Nancy Todd (D-Aurora) sponsored a bill that allows for a school district to lease a building to a state university and receive in-kind payments in return. Fellow Aurora lawmakers Rep. Janet Buckner (D-Aurora) and Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) co-sponsored the measure, Senate Bill 209, along with Douglas County Republican Sen. Chris Holbert.

Todd is currently running for re-election in Senate District 28 against Republican challenger James Woodley.

“The beautiful thing about CSU-Global is you can live anywhere and take advantage of it,” Todd said. “And online learning is not for every student … so I don’t think we’ll see (every student) take advantage of it, but I think we will see an increase.”

On top of providing additional educational resources, Munn said that moving Global’s headquarters to Aurora could be a boon for the city. CSU-Global is currently headquartered in Greenwood Village.

“From a pure business standpoint, it’s a new corporate headquarters to Aurora; it’s a number of highly skilled jobs coming into the city,” he said. “CSU-Global in particular has a significant set of students where they serve military and military families, so that proximity to Buckley (Air Force Base) is something that we think will be attractive to the city and maintaining Buckley’s presence.”

He added that CSU-Global’s price structure makes sense for a large chunk of APS students.

“The price point that Global can deliver education at is something that makes some sense, as compared to something you might see at a traditional college campus,” Munn said. “For a set of our students — we don’t think it will be all of our students — but for a set, it’s going to make a lot of sense.”

The university, which currently enrolls about 17,000 students, charges $1,050 for a three-credit, undergraduate course, and $450 more for a graduate course worth the same number of credits.