GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - An economic impact analysis of Colorado Mountain College shows that the college plays a substantial role in the Western Slope's economy, demonstrates a significant return on investment and is poised to help the region recover from the current recession.
The study was conducted by Appleseed, an economic development consulting firm based in New York. The firm's recently published final report shows that Colorado Mountain College is bucking the trends of most other colleges by keeping tuition low, making higher education accessible and working closely with local businesses and community partners.
Reflecting on what he and his company learned about CMC during the course of the study, Appleseed President Hugh O'Neill, whose firm has conducted dozens of similar studies of higher education institutions around the country, found CMC to be unique.
"I think there are a lot of institutions around the country that could learn a lot from what CMC is doing," he said.
A direct economic driver for region
The Appleseed study shows that CMC has a direct, positive impact on the regional economy because of its role as a major employer of local residents, a buyer of goods and services from local vendors, and a sponsor of construction projects.
In its study Appleseed took into account direct employment at Colorado Mountain College, employment within companies doing business with the college, and the effect of spending within the region by CMC's employees, students, contractors and vendors. Based on these impacts, Appleseed estimated that in 2011 alone the college directly and indirectly accounted for nearly 1,200 full-time-equivalent jobs in the college's nine-county service area, $46 million in earnings and $65 million in economic output.
"Our students, employees and vendors reinvest tuition, and salaries and revenues from the work they do on behalf of the college," said Dr. Charles R. Dassance, interim president of the college. "This impact is in addition to the ways we prepare our students and graduates to earn better salaries, and how we help to provide a better-educated workforce that increases the economic vitality of our local businesses."
Other recent studies echo the positive benefits colleges have on local economies. "The Chronicle of Higher Education" reported in March that Florida's state and community colleges annually contribute $26.6 billion to the state's economy. And in discussing the report "A Matter of Degrees: The Effect of Educational Attainment on Regional Economic Prosperity," co-author Ross DeVol said, "Our research makes a compelling case that for America's communities, the returns to investment from higher education have never been greater."
Colorado leaders in business and government echoed the college's positive benefits on the local economy.
"CMC's campus in Steamboat Springs is a critical link in our business community," said Tom Kern, CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. "In addition to providing excellent educational programs that directly provide trained workers for our resort-based businesses, CMC also now provides bachelor's degrees in business and in sustainability. These expanded programs are the direct result of the college interacting with our business community and tailoring their educational programs to meet the community's business needs."
"Colorado Mountain College's investment in communities transcends education, and the college is integral to our city and every city in the district the college serves," said Marianne Virgili, president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association. "Needless to say, the addition of four-year degrees and continued excellence in workforce development and training make CMC part of the fabric of Western Slope communities."
"Colorado Mountain College has provided a ray of hope to many communities in the 3rd Congressional District and state of Colorado where challenging economic conditions have made it tough for many families and small business to make ends meet," U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton said. "In addition to the positive economic footprint the college has in local communities, the job skills training and technical knowledge available to students gives them a vital competitive edge as they prepare to enter the workforce."
Building human capital
In Appleseed's report, the authors noted that CMC's courses and degrees remain in high demand from area residents. In 2011-12, just over 11 percent of all adult residents in the region took one or more classes at CMC, not including high school students taking concurrent enrollment classes.
Over the past 30 years, the college has awarded degrees and certificates to 14,582 people, about 82 percent of whom still live in the nine counties it serves, enhancing what Appleseed president O'Neill calls the "human capital" assets of the region.
O'Neill and his colleagues estimated that this human capital bank of knowledge and skills acquired by CMC students and graduates during the past 30 years directly added, in 2010 alone, $111 million to the annual earnings of residents in the area. In addition, they estimate that another $128 million in indirect earnings was generated through the "spillover effect" of having a more highly educated workforce: increased productivity, innovation and entrepreneurialism.
"We hear about our economic impact every day from people in our community," said Dr. Meeta Goel, vice president of institutional effectiveness at Colorado Mountain College. "It's nice now to have this external evidence of it. We are very cognizant of how we spend taxpayer dollars, and this report shows that we are good stewards of that support."
Beneficial social impacts, partnerships
In addition to the economic impacts, O'Neill says that a college provides other regional benefits.
"The more college graduates that a community has, or students with at least some college work, there are positive social impacts in terms of things like better health outcomes, better educational outcomes for children and higher levels of civic engagement," he said.
The Appleseed report states that, in addition to bringing these benefits, CMC contributes to the vitality of the region's economy through proactive partnerships with public agencies, community organizations and local businesses.
"We were struck by how well many of the college's programs are connected to and supportive of the industries in the region, such as outdoor recreation, energy, the arts and health care," O'Neill said. "These are strong connections, which help explain why there are such high student participation rates and why people stay in the region. CMC is clearly adaptable, helping meet the current demands of local industry, and providing students with the skills and knowledge that industries are looking for."
Poised to strengthen future growth
Appleseed found that CMC can have an even greater economic impact during the next five to 10 years.
"The growth of the region's economy in the years ahead is likely to be more dependent on the strength of its human capital than it has been in the recent past," the report notes. "As the region seeks to recover from the continued effects of the recession, investments in education are increasingly critical to a path of sustained (and sustainable) growth."
The report points to CMC's Isaacson School for New Media, the recent introduction of bachelor's degree programs in business and sustainability, and the college's exploration of possibly adding four-year degrees in applied science, nursing and teacher education as initiatives that will significantly expand the region's economic opportunities and resources.
The report also notes that the low tuition rates paid by CMC's in-district students can be a source of competitive advantage for the region. Thanks to solid taxpayer support in the college's six-county financing district, district residents pay only $56 per credit hour for lower-division courses, translating to less than $2,000 for a year of full-time study.
In the 2011-12 academic year, the most recent year for which comparable figures are available for other colleges and similar courses, this compares to averages of nearly $3,500 per year at other community colleges in the state, more than $7,000 for Colorado's four-year public schools and more than $8,000 at public four-year colleges nationally.
Further enhancing the affordability and value of a Colorado Mountain College education, the college's trustees voted recently to freeze all tuition rates for the 2013-14 academic year.
Mark Stevens and Debra Crawford work for Colorado Mountain College's Public Information Office.