Salidans and all those within the boundaries of the Salida School District are fast coming up on a decision that could change the trajectory of the community: Whether or not to be included in the boundaries of the Colorado Mountain College District. The question is on the ballot for the Nov. 5 general election.

While some may see the decision as a simple decision to tax or not to tax, the decision actually could have personal and community consequences far beyond the property tax being asked for to support becoming a post-secondary educational district of CMC.

Colorado Mountain College logo (Photo courtesy LinkedIn)

The school district itself approached CMC in 2018, regarding a way to access more educational opportunities for area residents; from high school students to career residents seeking retraining, to life-long learners. A conversation began in which CMC presented its programs, explaining the difference between being in a CMC District, versus simply being in the CMC service area. Financial projections were prepared, and meetings were held throughout the community.

One of the key questions asked is how much it will cost to have a CMC college here in the Salida School District.

The answer is: it will require the community to pass a mill levy of 0.003977. According to stats provided by Friends of Salida Schools, this will amount to $28.78 per $100,000 of actual value for residential real estate owners and $115.91 per $100,000 of actual value for commercial real estate owners. That’s an average of around $100 per year for homeowners. This cost could be as low as $8 to $12/month for the average residential home in Salida.

CMC’s business model is based on property tax revenues and not on tuition, unlike what is happening in most colleges and universities in America. This allows the college to offer a comprehensive array of classes, programs and services to smaller numbers of students, a necessity when delivering education in the rural mountain towns it serves.

CMC is a “not for profit” educational institution. It is a public institution and its courses and instructors are accredited by the state of Colorado and the Higher Learning Commission. All accreditation reports, budgets and qualifications of faculty are on the front-facing website of the college (www.coloradomtn.edu).

Proponents of the measure say the community advantage of a local college is the opportunity for students of all ages to take college courses. The opportunity is there, whether it is students getting a start on free college courses while still in high school, those going back for retraining to embark on new career paths, or even for life-long learners wishing to take classes – or teach classes– related to their interests and skills.

With a CMC presence in the Salida School District, students would have the opportunity not just to complete many college courses before finishing high school, cutting down their post-secondary education costs, but becoming a CMC District further reduces the overall cost of a student’s two or four-year degree. Students living within the CMC district would pay $80 per credit hour, while students who live only within the CMC service area pay $170 per credit hour (It should be noted that bachelor’s degrees in nursing and education have a slightly higher tuition rate than these). By comparison, 2019 tuition at CU Boulder is roughly $418 per credit hour, and tuition at Colorado State University is approximately $390 per credit hour.

Businesses, particularly those in categories where critical shortages of a trained workforce are in short supply such as nursing and the building trades, say that having a local higher education facility can help fill their employee needs. Other mountain communities with CMC campuses say that the presence of a college in a community is a boon to local businesses. Dozens of them have signed on in support of the measure and can be viewed here.

Those in support of the ballot question also say they understand the community question about where classes will be held, but that this is looking at the decision the wrong way. First, they say, the decision to bring CMC here must occur, then a student population will grow along with more course offerings and programs. With that basis, long term capital decisions about structures can begin. At the moment, CMC classes are held in the Kesner Building on the Salida High School Campus. This will be the case until the community decides on a new facility.

The Chaffee County Academic Center building in Buena Vista, which has been used in the past by CMC for classes. (Courtesy photo)

Questions have arisen about the status of what is often called the “BV building” run by CMC in Buena Vista. CMC has used it in the past for classes. Calling it by that name is incorrect. It is actually known as the Chaffee County Academic Center. Community members who helped make that building and its educational use a reality are signed on now to support the Salida School District Annexation Question. This adds weight to ballot measure supporters’ position that the location of whatever building CMC might ultimately require is not about Buena Vista or Salida – it’s about the whole county. They say that CMC is offering more classes within Chaffee County now than they have in 10 years, including for both Buena Vista and Salida high school students, without using that building.

The Text of the Salida School District Annexation Question:

“Shall the property within the boundaries of the Salida School District No. R32-J be included in the boundaries of the Colorado Mountain College District and in so doing, expand the availability to low-cost college degrees and certificates, continuing education and lifelong learning, tuition-free concurrent enrollment for high school students and skilled trades and industry-specific training. On behalf of residents of the Salida School District No. R32-J?”