New College Campus Offering Mountain Life Allure In Colorado

University of Denver's new mountain campus is attracting students who wish to disconnect and reengage with nature.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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mountain campus

Outdoor classrooms are proven to aid students’ concentration and motivate them to work harder. Just being around trees and getting into nature is also known to improve people’s mental health. Now, the University of Denver has opened a mountain campus to improve overall student experiences. 

While some college campuses offer expensive amenities like water parks and climbing walls, the University of Denver’s mountain campus is taking a different approach. Instead of adding more artificial recreational opportunities, they are highlighting nature and the benefits of exploring the natural world. Rustic cabins, a ropes course, and lack of cell phone signals are being combined to provide a unique mountain campus. 

Set in the famous Rocky Mountains, this is not the first mountain campus for the state. Colorado College, Colorado State University, and the University of Colorado all have their own off-site outdoor campuses. Each of these learning spaces affords students time to do direct research, study in a quiet setting, and take time away from busy dorms in order to foster better mental health practices. While the youth mental health crisis has reached a national state of emergency, many schools are doing everything they can to offer support. Campuses that get it right are finding that enrollment rates are also holding steady and that’s a win-win for both students and school officials. 

So why the push for unique mountain campus settings like this? It’s no secret that university interest has waned. Enrollment drops have steadily affected universities since before the pandemic. Filling teaching positions has proved difficult as professor pay has hit its lowest point in 50 years. The shifting education climate has drawn many teachers and students to alternative options and so The University of Denver is hoping that its new mountaintop campus will remind students that college is more than politics and certifications. 

Executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, Angie Paccione, noted that mountain campuses are a different kind of amenity. They are not as costly as water parks or other extravagant recreational pursuits, yet they are competitive enough to draw in students. In Colorado, more college students come into the state than leave it seeking higher education degrees elsewhere. 

The new addition to the mountaintop campuses in the state converted a 724-acre Girl Scout camp into a learning space near Rover Feather Lakes. It is named the James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus after James Kennedy alumni who donated $25 million toward the project. It was fully opened to students back in April and is expected to provide a much-needed nature area for students attending in the fall. Plans to host research projects and other academic endeavors are underway and students are being encouraged to submit proposals.

mountain campus

This new mountain campus holds the potential to shape the future of these students’ lives with a natural influence. Whether frequenting the space for peace of mind, or using the space to gather information, it’s a welcome amenity that isn’t driving tuition through the roof. The benefits of hands-on learning and incorporating exercise into lessons are well-known and so students are expected to flourish in this environment.