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If you live in or travel to Colorado’s high country, it’s likely that you routinely pass a Colorado Mountain College (CMC) campus. CMC plays an important role in educating and training students of all backgrounds for jobs and careers in the central mountain region. It is also helping lead a national conversation about making college more accessible, innovative, and relevant to modern learners and employers.

Colorado Mountain College President & CEO Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser. October 2020

Founded nearly 60 years ago specifically to serve remote mountain towns without a college or university nearby, CMC has always been responsive to regional needs. At its founding, long before the internet and internationally accessible airports, this meant building campuses from the ground up and training students to be typesetters and ranchers.

Today, CMC specializes in the needs of the modern tourism and outdoor-industry-based economies, educating students to become first responders and nurses, experts in sustainability and digital media, ski area operators, avalanche scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs and more.

In the post-pandemic world, CMC is focused on training the workforce of today and looking ahead to meet the needs and interests of all learners, regardless of their station in life. CMC is adaptable, teaching virtually and in-person, in blocks of time that better fit the needs of students and employers. And while remaining highly affordable, the college is investing resources into infrastructure that delivers high value to local economies, opportunities enabled by the college’s unique role and purpose.

Under state law, CMC is officially Colorado’s only dual mission college or university and one of an estimated 400 nationwide. Dual mission institutions most often serve rural communities and are the only physical postsecondary option where they are located. They intentionally offer both technical training and liberal arts programs and a mix of degree offerings aligned with local and regional workforce needs. They are neither a so-called “two-year” or “four-year” college – they are both.

CMC offers what its communities need and demand – just as it did on its first day of classes. Today this is a blend of bachelor’s and associate degrees, specialized certificates, concurrent enrollment classes for high school students, and continuing education and community courses.

CMC recently hosted the annual National Dual Mission Summit, drawing together an engaged mix of delegates and presenters – including Governor Jared Polis and representatives from national philanthropic and policy organizations, business and industry, and other dual mission institutions – to discuss successes in innovations, common stumbling blocks and shared dreams for revolutionizing higher education.

CMC Salida, the newest of the CMC campuses, now headquarters in this Salida School District Building. Photo by Brooke Gilmore.

Importantly, while CMC and institutions like it are adapting quickly, it is challenging to turn a giant ship. The Carnegie Classification System, for example, is a 50-year-old framework for categorizing American colleges and universities.

The Carnegie system organized colleges into fairly generic buckets by the types of degrees they confer and the amount of research money gathered and spent. In the ’70s, there was not a “bucket” for dual mission institutions (there still isn’t).

Consequently, colleges that strive to be nimble, innovative, and a “both/and” not only have to adapt their internal systems but must push to reform external ones as well.

While much of these policy conflicts are rightly of minimal concern to the average person, the misalignment between CMC’s internal goals and the realities of external systems illustrates why the status quo often doesn’t work for rural communities. It didn’t work in 1965 when the college’s founders blazed new educational trails in the high country, and it doesn’t work in the 21st century with local economies that demand employees with specialized skills and adaptability.

Because of its unique funding and operating model, CMC is fortunate to be in a position to effectively adapt to new challenges and accommodate new opportunities. Ever focused on programs with strong demand and high wages in mountain towns, CMC recently added three high-fidelity nursing simulation labs, is contemplating programs in oral health and radiology and launched bachelor’s degrees in human services and ecosystems science and stewardship to meet explicit requests from area employers. Later this year, the college will open new student housing opportunities in Breckenridge, the Vail Valley, Glenwood Springs, and Steamboat Springs.

The realities of the modern higher education marketplace are exceedingly challenging and require innovation, adaptation, and courage. Thanks to a gutsy board of trustees and talented and adventurous faculty and staff, CMC has continued to achieve success in spite of major changes underway nationally. Together, we will boldly storm and non-conform with the same hopeful, steadfast conviction that defines CMC’s past, present, and future.

By Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser

President & CEO of Colorado Mountain College.

Hauser can be reached at or @CMCPresident.