Brennan: Listen to create partnerships that make a difference
I recently was invited to join several key community leaders on a panel for an employee leadership training at Colorado Mountain College. The training, called LIFT (for Leading Into the Future Together), has provided years of quality, in-house professional development to CMC employees who hold positions ranging from maintenance professionals to faculty to administrators.
This particular panel featured Chris Romer (president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership who is also an elected CMC trustee), Phil Qualman (superintendent of Eagle County School District), Jill Klosterman (director of Eagle County Housing Authority) and me. The panel focused on:
- The importance of listening to what the community wants, while understanding we can’t solve everything.
- How we all must work with partners to address needs like housing and the workforce shortage.
CMC works with partners such as these — and more — to discern employment trends and workforce gaps, to offer local high school students free and affordable paths to careers and postsecondary credentials, and to tackle the lack of affordable housing.
For instance, we collaborate closely with the school district to offer a wide variety of concurrent enrollment courses, from general transfer subjects to carpentry, nurse aide and culinary arts. By working together, we pool resources to deliver myriad no-cost options that engage a wide range of learners and help to address community needs.
Another example: Because CMC students are part of the local workforce, we are partnering with Eagle County to maximize opportunities to provide affordable housing. By working together, in addition to the 36-unit building we’re constructing on CMC’s Vail Valley at Edwards campus, we are able to double the project by leasing land (under a duplicate, adjacent building) to the Eagle County Housing District Authority for eligible local employees (which includes CMC employees).
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Our partnerships are even more fundamental than discerning employment trends, supporting high school students, and addressing housing. We rely on local collaborations for the experiential learning required for our students to succeed. For example, in elementary education, local schools provide classroom placements; in ecosystems science, sustainability and business, local businesses and organizations offer internships; in paramedic, EMT, medical assisting and certified nurse aide, medical and first responder organizations provide students with clinical placements. Without the support of our local partners, students would not have access to critical on-the-job training that leads to greater success in the workplace and a stronger local economy.
Our partners also come to us to suggest new programs. While trying our best to be accommodating, we must stretch tax and tuition dollars by asking such questions as:
- Does this program meet a short-term need, or one that’s ongoing?
- Does the job pay a sustainable living wage?
- Are there enough local jobs available to make the program a success?
CMC’s soon-to-launch radiologic technology program is an example of this approach that balances community and student needs. Recently, Vail Health approached CMC about starting such a program locally. I consulted with my peers who lead CMC’s other campuses and asked them to engage their local hospitals to find out if they have similar demand. They learned that radiologic technicians are scarce in numerous communities served by CMC, and that this need is ongoing. National data confirmed that more than 200 jobs are available in this field, across all the communities that CMC serves.
College leadership then set to learning how to cost-effectively address that shortage. After many months of research, we are developing curriculum and aim to register students in the fall of 2024.
In a similar spirit, CMC is launching a new oral health program in partnership with Mountain Family Health that will result in a dental clinic being built on our Edwards campus. From May 2024, the clinic will offer reduced-cost dental care to the local community and provide students with access to patients for the clinical requirements to become dental hygienists. We received a grant from Delta Dental to help develop the program and are engaging with other partners to ensure its long-term success.
Many of the previous institutions where I have been employed offered programs based on student demand (to generate tuition income) and historical precedent. CMC is different. We go to great lengths to listen to the community and invest in our programming accordingly, while addressing the practical career needs of its students. Through listening and engaging in conversations, we form lasting partnerships together that make a difference.
Dr. Marc Brennan is vice president and campus dean for Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley at Edwards.