Federal education official lauds Colorado Mountain College | VailDaily.com

Federal education official lauds Colorado Mountain College

EDWARDS — Ted Mitchell smiled as a few dozen Colorado Mountain College students peppered him with questions. Among them: "Mr. Undersecretary of Education, what did you learn in school today?"

"American higher education has always been an engine of social mobility. CMC exemplifies that," Mitchell said. "As you prosper, our country prospers."

Education matters, Mitchell told the students. Colorado is in the top five in the country for a knowledge-based economy.

"It has never been more important to get a post-secondary degree or certification," Mitchell said. "The investment in time and resources you are making is just terrific."

Student and teacher

Ted Mitchell, the United States undersecretary of education, says his best days are when he's talking with people working in higher education, and not in Washington. He made a couple stops in Eagle County, one in Beaver Creek to touch base with some Stanford University buddies, and one to tour Colorado Mountain College's Edwards campus and catch up with Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Besnette Hauser. Mitchell was the head of Hauser's Ph.D. thesis committee when she was at UCLA.

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He says he's pretty darned proud of his former student.

CMC's 50th year

CMC is beginning its 50th year. It began with two campuses, and is now 11 campuses over 12,000 miles in Colorado's Central Rockies.

Classes cost $62 a credit hour, but they'll do it for half that cost for the first 50 students who sign up in the college's 50th year, an idea Mitchell called "brilliant."

"Colorado Mountain College provides such high quality instruction over such a wide area. It's that combination of quality instruction and local delivery that makes this place extraordinary," Mitchell said.

Student ASCENT

The gold standard — both literally and metaphorically — is the ASCENT program. Local high school students stay on the school district's enrollments for up to two years after they finish high school, and the money that would be spent on them in local schools pays for their CMC classes.

"We're thrilled with it. We think it's a great solution," Mitchell said. "It has been encouraging to see communities not wait for Congress."

It's one of several models around the country, Mitchell said.

"What makes this unique is the number students who take advantage of it," Mitchell said.

Last year, more than 700 local students earned more than 5,000 credit hours through CMC's dual enrollment program — college classes they take while still in high school. Those classes don't cost the students anything.

"As a country we're focused on diversifying our college population, making sure low income and first generation students have the ability to both see themselves in college and then succeed," Mitchell said. "Dual enrollment programs attack both of those problems for low income and first-generation students to get the confidence of doing college level work while they're in high school, that's massive. Then for them to come into college with a head start and the number of credits they've earned … that's massive. It also cuts down on the amount of money they have to spend on higher education. It reduces the price for them, as well as the country."

The average student debt is $28,000 for a four-year degree. The default level is $9,000-$10,000, Mitchell said.

"The vast majority of those who default are students who started college but did not finish, and did not get that bump in their income," Mitchell said.

About Colorado Mountain College

Colorado Mountain College is a local community college that grants degrees and certificates through the bachelor's level.

CMC's 11 campuses are spread across 12,000 square miles of the central Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Each year, close to 20,000 students enroll at Colorado Mountain College.

For the last two years CMC's President's Scholarship has meant instant admission and a $1,000 scholarship to every graduating senior in the college's service area. Students have to keep their grades up and apply for other forms of financial aid.

About Mitchell

Mitchell has been is Undersecretary of Education since his confirmation by the U.S. Senate on May 8, 2014. He rides herd on postsecondary education, adult, career and technical education and federal student aid.

Mitchell is the former CEO of the NewSchools Venture Fund and was president of the California State Board of Education. Through his long career in higher education, Mitchell has served as the president of Occidental College, vice chancellor and dean of the School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California – Los Angeles, and professor and chair of the Department of Education at Dartmouth College.

Mitchell received his bachelor's and master's degrees and Ph.D. from Stanford University. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Christine, and their two children.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.