UNC’s president Andy Feinstein talks about the implications of Students First initiative, the relevance of becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution and the forthcoming OsteopathicMedical College. (Running time 16:25)
My name is Andy Feinstein, and I am President of the University of Northern Colorado.
Since the beginning of his presidency at UNC, Andy Feinstein has been working to implement a student-first approach. He discussed many initiatives through UNC that are there to benefit those attending UNC, the Greeley community, and the Colorado community.
What does a Student First approach mean to you?
You know, Students First is a very important concept in the university, and it's one of the five vision elements of our strategic plan. And at a high level, it means that we all exist to transform the lives of our students. It's something that we do in everything at our university. It's about knowing and caring about our students, eliminating barriers to progress and empowering students to realize their dreams.
And if you recall, we have a strategic plan. We're rowing, not drifting. We're in the second phase. And students first is really in. Phase one was about action and tactics. And it kind of created a foundational format for the strategic plan. And we focused on systems and structures and resources and put those into place. For example, we realigned enrollment management under student affairs. We revisited orientation processes in welcoming incoming activities for students when they come back to school. We invested significantly in our partnership with Sodexo, and you might see that when you go into the university center. I had pizza there today. It was awesome. It's also about our graduation retention task force that we've created to ensure that students graduate on time. And it's also about enhancing our data analytics tools and making decisions that are based upon data-informed decisions.
Now, in phase two, with the student's first concept, we're making significant progress in strategic enrollment. We've moved strategic enrollment over to student affairs. We've also really focused on becoming a Hispanic-serving institution. There's lots of programs and activities around that as well.
And we're also, as I just mentioned, with our investments in kind of the student experience, just walking through the University Center and Campus Commons, you'll see some of the investments we're having in becoming a more students-first institution.
So like all the changes with the university center, like the new restaurants and all of that stuff.
And also, what does it mean to be a Hispanic Serving University?
On the Colorado Department of Education's website, it says that UNC is an emerging Hispanic Serving Institution. And in Colorado, there are 14 universities that have earned the Hispanic Serving Institution designation and 12, including UNC, that are emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions.
So a Hispanic Serving Institution is a designation by the federal government that identifies us as having at least 25% of our undergraduate student population. Hispanic or Latinx. We want to make it more than just about Hispanic enrolling institutions. And the serving part of that is so important. It's about ensuring that our Latinx Hispanic students have opportunities to thrive and succeed, just like all of our students here, and that we have programs in place that support and help them and their families be successful here and really become an institution of first choice for the Hispanic alumnus community.
And that's what we're doing.
Trying to expand a bit more to other Hispanic and Latinx communities that aren't just in Greeley.
How have you been working with your students on your initiatives?
You know, I very much enjoy working with students. Being around students and having an opportunity to engage with them. Just last week I had a Pizza with the President event with Cedric Howard, who's our vice president of student Affairs and Enrollment Services. And once a month we get together with groups of students and talk about important topics that affect them on campus, learning about, you know, what might be better ways to engage them on campus during the year.
What are some better welcoming events to have some retention strategies? So that's something I do every single month. I meet twice a semester with Student Senate. Our student leadership on campus and just listen and learn from them and share updates of what I'm working on, but really want to hear from the students about their experiences at the university.
We've got a number of organizations and committee meetings that I oversee, and I make sure that there's graduate, undergraduate students that participate in those. And then also just informal interactions. I'm going to have an event at the end of the semester for student leadership at my house. I try to host regular events and meetings with students throughout the year in which I have an opportunity to hear from them and learn about their experiences being a bear.
What has been the most rewarding part about being the President of the university?
Well, since we're talking about students, it really the most rewarding part of my job is being around students listening and learning from them, and finding ways to help them realize their dreams. Coming up in about a month and a half, we're going to have graduation, which is commencement, which is one of the best couple of days of the year for me when I get to celebrate with students, you know, the culmination of all our hard work and share that with not only the students but their family and friends and loved ones. So, you know, that's probably the most rewarding part of my job is just being with the students, sharing in their excitement of graduation.
I also like when we actually start a new semester and I get to help students move into that housing. And that's also very enjoyable for me too. I'll be out there with a grocery cart and I'll be pushing it around and I actually walk in the J lot and I just walk around the aisles and try to find someone who needs some help, you know, packing their suitcases or their clothing or their furniture and helping to move into their room.
And along the way, I get to hear wonderful stories about where they're from and what excited them about coming to UNC and you know, why, why they chose us and what they're looking forward to in the in the coming year. So those are just great experiences that I get to share. And I always look forward to those those times.
Yeah. So like the experience of seeing the students from like their freshman year moving into the dorms, then their graduation.
Yes. And I'm in my fifth year. So last year was the first year that I really had a number of students that were graduating that I knew from when they were freshmen. And it was nice to be a part of their whole learning experience at UNC. Some of them are back here. Some of them are now in graduate school here, or they've stopped by and continued to keep a relationship with me.
So that's also very rewarding.
Just like last year, the first one, because the other years before COVID.
I know that was very difficult and how much I love being around the students. It was tough for all of us to not be able to experience people in-person for a couple of years. I'm so happy that that's behind us for the most part.
For the most part. And like being able to actually be back in the classroom and be back to interacting face to face.
Yes, it's wonderful doing what we're doing right now. Right? Sitting in a studio and having a conversation is something that I missed.
What has been the most challenging part?
This year probably the most challenging part of my job has been advocating for funding for higher education. It seems that every year we talk to the state legislature, we talk to the governor about the importance of investing in higher education. And I think that there's never been enough resources allocated to higher education. And we're basically 47th out of 50 states in per capita funding, in higher education in this country.
And if we were just funded on par with our peers, we'd have an additional $40 million of funding for higher education. And imagine what we could do to support our students, our community with those kind of resources. So the greatest challenge is really conveying to our elected officials and the governor the importance in investing in higher education, the impact it has on our students, on their families, on our communities.
And getting that message across has been a struggle. And we continue to fall behind in funding, you know, compared to other institutions in the United States, other other states, higher education systems and that's very frustrating to me and very challenging.
Does becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution kind of help a little bit?
I think it'll help. It will help. And some regards it will certainly help, I think, identify to our Hispanic and Latinx community that this is a place that they should call or could call home. And I think that's an important part. I think that also opens up some federal support, particularly around research and student success initiatives that can help us.
And it really is going to help all of our students. And I think there will be some impacts and improvement, but not the level that we need. We really need the state to step up and fund us appropriately, which has been a struggle in the five years that I've been here.
Taking the torch on from the last president.
You know, I'm very concerned about affordability and I don't want to, you know, make, you know, price UNC out of our students and their families. At the same time, you know, we have resource needs and challenges like every organization, every business, and every university. The state is not funding us appropriately. You know the challenges are is how do we ensure that our tuition and fees are also affordable at the same time and still deliver, you know, a quality educational experience that's the challenges that we have. And that's why I think advocating for higher education, for funding has been so difficult.
You know, we've been talking with like state and like the people like that have you've been working with students on?
We have. In fact, last week we had a Greeley Day at the Capitol we organized this for the last five years. We start out the legislative session with really like a preview of what's going to happen at the Capitol throughout the year, and what bills are going to be proposed and possibly passed. And then we also have a wrap-up at the end of the legislative session, which will happen in May.
But during the session, we have the Greeley days, and we didn't do that during the pandemic. But this is the first year I've been back in the last couple of years, and we brought students with us and we brought the mayor of the city of Greeley. We brought the city manager, we brought leaders from District Six, our high school and elementary school district, the community college leadership there. We brought leaders from the Greeley Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Authority, and we went down to the Capitol and shared the story of Greeley and why Greeley is an integral and important part of Colorado. And I think those students that are with us got a great experience. And they also shared their stories and advocated for why it's important that the state supports higher education in Colorado and supports the University of Northern Colorado.
So what are you hoping for the future of your presidency here?
That's a great question. I mean, I've got a lot of work on the strategic plan. You know, I'm focusing on improving enrollment. We've seen some enrollment declines in the last couple of years coming out of the pandemic. So that's a priority for me, continuing to have a stable budget and be able to invest in programs and services that support our students is a priority of mine. And then we're building an Osteopathic Medical College.
When I looked it up on Google, it said that osteopathy is a type of alternative medicine that emphasizes the physical manipulation of the body's muscle tissue and bones. So thank you, Google, because I wouldn't have been able to figure that out on my own.
So having a medical college at UNC is a very challenging project. It is going to require a lot of commitment and effort by the university and our community. But it's going to happen and I would love to see our first cohort of students. I was hoping that our first cohort of students would start fall of 2025, but it looks like it might be more like the fall of ‘26.
I think the impact of having a medical college at UNC will be incredible, not only for our university, but for the city of Greeley, for the county, and for the state. And that's certainly a big focus of mine.
Are you able to tell me a little bit about what the process has been like of trying to introduce a medical college into UNC?
Sure. It started when I first arrived here. My predecessor, Kay Norton, have been talking about the possibility of having a medical school here, a medical college in the work that she was focusing on the last year of her presidency here. There just wasn't a synergy and energy at the university and the community to do that. But it was a great idea.
When I arrived, I kind of looked at the possibilities of this and we were focusing on some other initiatives when I first arrived, primarily about stabilizing the budget and addressing resource allocation to the colleges. So it was kind of put on hold for a couple of years. And it wasn't until about two years ago when I had conversations with a couple of the leaders in the local hospitals and also some of our closest donors who just kind of urged me to reconsider this project.
And so we did and spent several months touring the country looking at other medical colleges. And their success hired one of the leading consultant firms in the country that specializes in medical college feasibility studies. And, you know, I think I came to realize that this is a not only it's possible, but it would be such a positive impact on our community for health care services.
And we got in earnest, started working on this about a year and a half ago, raised a little over $7 million dollars, and hired our founding dean, who started about nine months ago. And, you know, we've been developing kind of the plan, the strategic plan for the medical college. We have an advisory board of working on basically the relationships of all the hospitals and health care facilities in Colorado to help us with clinical rotations over the next couple of years.
So lots of pieces kind of moving, but a lot of work happening and a lot of great momentum. So we're very excited about this project coming to fruition in the next couple of years.
Was there a lack of like medical colleges in Colorado?
There is. There's only right now there are two medical schools in Colorado, Anschutz Medical School, which is part of the University of Colorado system, and Rocky Vista, which is a private osteopathic medical college in Parker, Colorado. And those two combined are producing less than 400 residency or doctors a year and more than a quarter of, I should say, there's about 25% of the unmet need of doctors in Colorado right now.
We can see with the drought, you know, the significant increase in population in Colorado, the number of doctors that are retiring, pressures that are being placed on our health care system, it's clear to us there is a significant need for more professionals, more doctors, more health care providers in Colorado. We want to be a part of that. And we know that less than 400 doctors a year being produced in Colorado is not enough.
Yeah, especially for how big the state is.
So would you say that's also a part of the student-first initiative?
These students are going to be, you know, coming from all over the country, but most of them will be coming from Colorado and a lot of them will be coming from Northern Colorado. And hopefully, you know, graduates of our pre-medical and graduate programs. And I think it's just exciting to provide that opportunity for students to also pursue their dreams of becoming a doctor and hopefully staying in Weld County and Greeley as well.
I do have one more question for you, and that is if you could do a podcast, what would you do it on?
That is a great question. I love to play disc golf. And so I guess one podcast I would love to have is maybe like traveling the country and interviewing some of the sports, you know, elite athletes and hearing their stories about what they've learned in life from playing disc golf or maybe some fun stories that they've had on the course, who they've met while they've been playing, and what parts of the country that they've loved the most and playing disc golf.
So that might be one fun podcast. I think another might be. I love to hike and I love to climb fourteeners when I spend time doing that, I meet so many interesting people on the trail who have a shared passion for the great outdoors and hiking and climbing. I think it'd be fun to have a podcast where I interview folks about their experiences hiking and climbing in Colorado. What makes that experience special to them, what they've learned, and maybe some interesting stories about who they've met on the trail? And that would be a hard one because usually when I'm hiking, I'm out of breath, so I might have to take a break and interview them maybe at the top or maybe when they come back down the mountain. But I think it would be a wonderful way to learn more about people and their enjoyment of the great outdoors in Colorado, which is such a special part of of my experiences here.
Yeah, you're definitely in the right place for that
And also like once it gets warmer or are you typically out there using the disc golf track?
I will be out there playing disc golf as soon as it gets warmer today. As you know, we had a little bit of snow.
This was recorded last Monday. So when it in Colorado fashion snowed a couple of inches overnight. So that was super cool and fun. I'm so ready for the warm weather.
It's tough to play disk golf in the snow, but it will be short-lived. And I can see it's already melting off the sidewalks and it's just the end of, you know, towards the end of March. So hopefully that was the last snowstorm that we were going to have. But you never know. It's it's it's Colorado and it's spring.
So it could happen again. Yeah, but I I'll be out there and I also love to play besides this course there's some wonderful golf course courses all throughout Colorado.
Although it was intimidating sitting down with the President of the university, I did get to learn that he liked to hike and play disc golf. Thank you for tuning in to listen to Andy Feinstein talk about his implementations of a student-first approach at UNC, as well as his initiatives, such as making it so that UNC is an emerging Hispanic Serving Institution and how an osteopathic school would not only impact but help Colorado as well.
I'm your host Isabella Marcus-Porter, giving you a taste of UNC.