Carrie Besnette Hauser: Colorado Mountain College: 50 years of gratitude |

Carrie Besnette Hauser: Colorado Mountain College: 50 years of gratitude

Carrie Besnette Hauser
Guest Commentary
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser
DAVID CLIFFORD; David Clifford |

Fifty years ago today, the sawdust had barely settled when Colorado Mountain College opened its doors for classes in Leadville and in Spring Valley near Glenwood Springs. We have come so far since then that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has proclaimed Oct. 2 “forever after” as Colorado Mountain College Day.

If you’ve been one of the nearly 2,500 people to attend any on-campus CMC 50th-anniversary events this past year, or the thousands we spoke with at community events, then you know our main message has been one of gratitude. Truly, because of you, we are here today. Without your philanthropic, tax and moral support, the half-million students and community members who have come through our doors over these past five decades would not have reached their educational goals, gotten better jobs, attended countless events in our facilities or simply learned for the joy of learning.

Our vision says it all: We aspire to be the most inclusive and innovative student-centered college in the nation, elevating the economic, social, cultural and environmental vitality of our beautiful Rocky Mountain communities.

We are who we’ve always been. And we also have grown up:

• We offer certificates to bachelor’s degrees tied to the key economies of our mountain communities. In those early years, that meant ranching and typing classes. Today, we teach sustainability, new media, entrepreneurship and other leading-edge disciplines.

• We are open access and serve many first-generation, lower-income and increasingly Hispanic students. We always have welcomed, and always will welcome, everyone.

• CMC is often noted in national rankings for its extraordinary value, high quality and innovative programs.

• Approximately 20,000 students each year attend CMC.

We have lived our vision by embracing and leading in concurrent enrollment, the state program that offers high school students free college classes. Every year, more and more students receive their associate degree from us before they graduate from high school. In some communities, we have expanded concurrent enrollment into subjects like welding, certified nurse aide or culinary arts so that high school students can earn certificates that give them an immediate boost in the job market.

We have lived our vision by listening to pleas from myriad stakeholders to offer bachelor’s degrees that tie directly to local and regional workforce needs, saving students a commute to distant cities. We have used technology to bring learning to our communities.

In the early 1960s, visionaries traveled the back roads of five counties to gain voters’ support to create a unique local-district college. Voted into law in 1965, Colorado Mountain College started operations in 1967 with two small, residential campuses; within five years we also were offering classes in Aspen, Rifle, Salida, Eagle County and Summit County. By the early 1980s, voters had agreed to include Steamboat Springs in Routt County. We now have nine counties in our service area, which is the size of Maryland — dotted with high mountain passes.

We have grown up alongside our region; together we have become stronger over the years. We are honored to be part of this state and look forward to evolving to serve our communities’ needs for generations to come.

For more about CMC’s history, please explore our 50th anniversary website, We’ve celebrated the stories of our founding father, our legacy land donors, and our faculty, staff, alumni and students. The 50th events were possible because of the generosity of several presenting sponsors — Alpine Bank, Jim and Connie Calaway, Holy Cross Energy, the Morgridge Family Foundation and Sodexo — and nearly 40 local sponsors.

Just as in 1967 we could not have foreseen smartphones and smart boards, we can’t predict the appearance of future learning. Regardless, we know we will continue to train our region’s teachers, police officers, nurses, EMTs, ski-area operators, business owners and culinary and hospitality workers.

We will continue to help our neighbors earn GEDs or learn to speak English, or extend their curiosity through continuing education courses. We will continue to give every possible advantage to our local high school students, to veterans, to adults seeking retraining so that all can receive valuable, high-quality degrees or technical postsecondary training.

Because of you, and your support, we have provided postsecondary education at unparalleled affordability for thousands upon thousands of residents and others from across the state and nation who seek out the unique programs we offer in the spectacular places we love.

So, along with eight prior CMC presidents and trustees both past and present, please accept our gratitude for your role in sustaining this creative, spunky, adaptive, impactful and relevant one-of-a-kind college. Because of you, the next 50 years look very bright indeed.

Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. Reach her at or follow her on Twitter at @CMCPresident.

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