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Press Release

MSU Denver Board of Trustees receive the prestigious John W. Nason Award for exceptional leadership and unusual courage

Contact: Tim Carroll, Office 303-556-5136, Cell 303-870-7705

Posted: April 8, 2016

DENVER – Cristian Solano-Córdova was always a high-achieving student. Throughout elementary, middle andhigh school he tested into advanced classes and excelled. Intelligent, articulate and bilingual, he seemed to have everything he needed to succeed in college. Everything that is, except U.S. citizenship.

After enrolling in a private college, Solano-Córdova – who wasn’t eligible for government funds – found money to be a major obstacle. He made it through his first semester thanks to scholarships and savings, but soon drained both. He simply couldn’t afford college and dropped out.

For a few years, he floated. He worked and waited, and thought he might never be able to return to college. Then something unexpected happened: In 2012, MSU Denver decided to offer a non-resident tuition rate for eligible undocumented students, paving the way for the passage of Colorado’s ASSET legislation in 2013. The University remains a leading advocate in this arena, enrolling half of all undocumented students in Colorado.

“I signed up the very first day,” said Solano-Córdova, a senior studying biology and modern languages, who is president of MSU Denver’s Student Government Assembly. “I was inspired and encouraged that the people at this university cared enough to push me forward rather than hold me back.”

MSU Denver’s bold leadership, as exemplified by efforts like those taken for undocumented students, was a driving factor in the Board of Trustees receiving the prestigious John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership for 2016 from the Association of Governing Boards – one of only six boards in the nation to receive the award. Charles Ambrose, president of University of Central Missouri and one of this year’s Nason Award judges, presented the honor to the Board at its meeting today in recognition of its “exceptional leadership and initiative, unusual courage and significant achievement.”

“Your board’s story stood out to the judges because it highlighted the board’s strong leadership in the face of significant challenges,” wrote AGB Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Susan Whealler Johnston in her letter to President Stephen Jordan announcing MSU Denver’s selection for the John W. Nason Award. “The judges were unanimous in their decision that your board should be one of this year’s winners.” The 2016 competition was judged by a panel of five presidents and board members led by the Honorable Phil Bredesen, former governor of Tennessee.

Former trustee Rob Cohen, who served as Board chair from 2010-13, was at the heart of the controversial decision surrounding undocumented students and experienced the ensuing blowback firsthand. “I am extremely proud to have been a part of the Board of Trustees that made the courageous decision around affordable tuition rates for undocumented students at MSU Denver,” said Cohen. “With that said, I have never experienced a decision that was more polarizing at the time. I got many personal calls thanking me and congratulating me on the decision of the Board, at the same time I was getting constant input that the decision we made would have long term negative impact on the institution as well as me personally.”  

Noting that she, too, was proud to be affiliated with the University “at such an innovative and creative stage of its development,” former trustee Melody Harris, who served on the Board from 2008-2014, offered strong praise for Jordan. “The then-chair and key members of the Joint Budget Committee were not amenable to the proposal, indeed, almost hostile. But Dr. Jordan adeptly managed their questions and demonstrated both the moral imperative of our actions as well as the fiscal responsibility in the creative way that the Board and executive staff addressed the problem,” she said.

Like Solano-Córdova, student trustee Maria Garibay Campos, who represents MSU Denver’s student body on the Board and is slated to graduate in December 2016, enrolled at the University because of its decision to offer affordable tuition for undocumented students. Campos is a first-generation college student who immigrated to Colorado from Mexico with her family when she was five-years-old.

“When my educational doors were all closed, when I was left with frustration and a doubtful future without opportunities despite having graduated valedictorian from my high school, I felt as though MSU Denver said, ‘You’re not a criminal. You’re the future of this country,” said Campos. “This isn’t just my story, it’s the story of thousands of other DREAMERs who have benefited from the ripple effect that MSU Denver pioneered. I am beyond grateful that the Board’s leaders care about all of its students and have proven that their focus really is the students and our success. As a professional I will now be able to contribute even more to the only country that I know and call my home.”


About Association of Governing Boards

Since 1921, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) has had one mission: to strengthen and protect this country’s unique form of institutional governance through its research, services, and advocacy. Serving more than 1,300 member boards, 1,900 institutions, and 40,000 individuals, AGB is the only national organization providing university and college presidents, board chairs, trustees, and board professionals of both public and private institutions and institutionally related foundations with resources that enhance their effectiveness.


About Metropolitan State University of Denver

For 50 years, Metropolitan State University of Denver has transformed the lives of students, served as a courageous leader in higher education and boldly advanced the well-being of metro Denver communities. Throughout its history, the University has been known as a gateway to opportunity through broad access, quality academics and education relevant to the Colorado economy. The yearlong MSU Denver anniversary celebration commemorates the creation in 1965 by the Colorado General Assembly of the state’s first urban higher education institution.

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