Auraria Campus
The Auraria Campus

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A Brief History

In July of 1858, prospectors William Greeneberry Russell and his brothers panned out seven ounces of gold worth $200 along the South Platte. This small strike sparked the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, an influx of some 45,000 fortune seekers into the region formerly known as "the Great American Desert." The Russells founded the township of Auraria City on November 1, 1858 on the west bank of Cherry Creek, a favorite campground of the Arapaho Indians. They named the settlement after their home town in Georgia, where the first major U.S. gold boom occurred in the 1830s. The name Auraria is derived from the Latin word for gold.

In 1860, the pioneer settlement merged with Denver, another mining camp on the opposite bank of the Creek. The Auraria neighborhood became West Denver, thriving for decades as a residential area. By the early 1960s, Auraria had become primarily a commercial district, although some residences still survived.

In the late 1960s, the area was chosen as the site for the Auraria Higher Education Center, a unique complex that would serve three separate institutions of higher education. Until Auraria was built, the three institutions were spread throughout the city with inadequate facilities. Options were limited for Denver residents who could not afford to leave home or needed a low-cost education that could be combined with work. In order to meet these needs, the Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and the University of Colorado Denver were set up to provide a variety of educational opportunities. Auraria was planned as a non-traditional campus, where a student theoretically could enter without a high school diploma at Community College of Denver, receive a four-year undergraduate degree from Metro State, and continue through a Masters and Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado Denver. For convenience, classes would be offered throughout the day and evening. Some students might take one or two classes to brush up skills, while others would commit to a degree program or supplement their education for a career change. The options and possibilities were almost limitless.

The campus opened for all three schools in January 1977. The original plan was to accommodate 13,000 daytime FTE (full time equivalent) students, with a maximum of 15,000 (or 25,000 people) by 1980. The combined campus, however, was successful beyond anyone's expectations, with a student population of nearly 27,000 the first year it opened. Since then, the combined enrollment for all three institutions has grown to more than 39,000--1/5 of all Colorado college students.

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