We’ve seen evidence that smaller, rural institutions like Colorado Mountain College (CMC) can be highly nimble, pivoting to adapt to changing conditions.
It is an honor to recognize the entire team at CMC that handled the persistent, colossal, and unplanned adversity of the pandemic. Together, we adjusted quickly to meet the needs of our students and communities, waiving tuition, expanding technologies, and shifting hundreds of courses to remote modalities. And while the pandemic was a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis — we hope — the adaptability exemplified by CMC is an enduring characteristic. Innovation is what we do.
As a case in point, though the college recently celebrated nearly 1,400 talented, resilient students as they earned their degrees and certificates, CMC’s faculty and staff are already hard at work planning for significant changes in the year ahead.
Although CMC is and has always been among the most affordable colleges in the state and the nation, our financial aid and business offices are implementing the Colorado Mountain Promise, a “tuition-free” aid program for lower- and middle-income students. This program will make college nearly free for hundreds of students from working households across our state.
The Colorado Mountain Promise is a true gift made possible by CMC’s unique fiscal model. However, we all know that tuition isn’t the most prohibitive cost for students in our mountain resort communities. It’s housing, housing and housing. So, we are working to address this, too.
In November 2021, after the passage of Colorado’s Amendment B, CMC trustees boldly agreed to take on $40 million in debt to construct apartment-style housing in communities where the college has available land. After months of planning, in July we will break ground on housing projects in Breckenridge, Edwards, Steamboat Springs and Spring Valley, enabling hundreds more students to pursue degrees while affording them to study, work and live locally.
And yet, the very best financial plans are insufficient to address policy barriers that impede access for hundreds of students in the state. So, CMC stepped up to shape and advocate for new laws to aid some of the most vulnerable residents across Colorado.
A few weeks ago, Gov. Polis signed House Bill 22-1155 into law. This bill was conceived by CMC with full support of the college’s leadership team and elected board of trustees. It allows hundreds of undocumented high school graduates access to postsecondary training and education. With lead sponsorship from Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, and Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, HB22-1155 makes the state a little more just and equitable for thousands of individuals living and working in our communities; it bolsters the health of our local economies.
While lawmakers in D.C. remain at a seemingly permanent impasse on immigration reform, Colorado and CMC are impatient for decency and willing to press forward. Our employers and businesses need workers now. Without wasting a moment, CMC has already implemented the changes found in HB22-1155, only two weeks after it was signed into law. How’s that for governmental efficiency?
Finally, we know that Colorado’s mountain communities never stand still. Their populations are constantly evolving. So, too, is Colorado Mountain College.
So, to meet our region’s ever-changing demands, CMC is adding new degrees and improving academic facilities to offer state-of-the-art experiences for students. New this fall: a Bachelor of Science in ecosystem science and stewardship, a Bachelor of Arts in human services, with related associate degrees and certificates in addiction studies, and an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Science with emphases in health sciences. In addition, the college will welcome nursing students into high-tech simulation labs in Breckenridge, Steamboat and Glenwood Springs.
These new programs illustrate CMC’s designation in 2021 as a “dual-mission” institution – one that offers an intentional blend of bachelor’s and associate degrees as well as specialized certificates, lifelong learning, a mix of the liberal arts and applied career training. It is who we are, why we exist – and what our students, employers, and communities expect from us.
CMC isn’t the largest or longest-operating college in the state, but we do operate with a perpetual sense of urgency and strive to be the most innovative, most principled and most nimble. Because in our region of the state and to our students, communities, employers, and taxpayers, these are the attributes that matter most.
By Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser