New CMC bachelor’s degrees aim to support local hiring |

New CMC bachelor’s degrees aim to support local hiring

Mike McKibbin
Colorado Mountain College


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EAGLE COUNTY — Cierra Austin wants to teach elementary school. Thanks to one of two new bachelor’s degrees offered by Colorado Mountain College this fall, the New Castle resident won’t have to relocate to get that degree. And she may wind up with a local teaching job.

Austin has been working toward an Associate of Arts in elementary education at the college and plans to apply her credits toward earning a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies: elementary education.

“I enjoy working with kids and seeing how their minds work,” Austin said. “I like how the CMC bachelor’s program gets students into the classroom in year one.”

Austin also noted the program will help her get to know a local school district and school, which can help lead to employment.

If CMC had not offered the bachelor’s degree, Austin said she would have likely enrolled at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, which would either mean a long commute to class or a relocation.

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“And you can’t beat CMC’s tuition,” she said. The U.S. Department of Education recently listed Colorado Mountain College as the third-most-affordable college for bachelor’s degrees in the nation.

Starting this fall, the four-year elementary education degree will be offered at Colorado Mountain College locations in Glenwood Springs and Edwards.


Also new this semester is a Bachelor of Applied Science in leadership and management, which is offered at the college’s locations in Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs and Edwards. Students who earn an Associate of Applied Science in career and technical programs, such as professional photography, graphic design, ski and snowboard business, culinary arts, paramedic, fire science and others, can enroll in the program to prepare for management positions in their field.

The two new degrees follow three other bachelor’s degrees at the college: business administration, nursing and sustainability studies.

Diana Sirko, Roaring Fork School District superintendent, said having elementary education students already living in the area is “a tremendous advantage” when hiring new teachers.

“A lot of the new teachers we talk to are all excited until they see what the cost of living is like,” Sirko said. “But if someone’s already here and is very qualified to teach, it’s much easier to get them on board.”

In a survey conducted by CMC of school district superintendents and principals in the college’s service area, all said they “would hire” or would “maybe hire” the college’s graduates. None said they would not hire CMC graduates. In 2010-12, school districts in Garfield and Eagle counties hired 256 new elementary teachers, which is nearly half of the 539 teachers hired.

Sirko added that the new program may also help the district lower teacher recruitment costs.

Barbara K.V. Johnson, director of teacher education at CMC, said another key aspect of the new degree is a focus on cultural diversity.

“To have our students fully embedded in classrooms from their first year, learning about the cultures of the students, is very unusual” for similar four-year programs, she said. “We think we’ll have graduates who are prepared to work with any students who speak any language and know any culture.”


Michael Martin, director of the ski and snowboard business program at the college’s campus in Steamboat Springs, said local committees of workers, business owners and others helped focus the Bachelor of Applied Science curriculum on management.

“As students go through our current two-year programs, they get a good idea of the skills needed to operate a business,” Martin said. “If our career and technical graduates have this degree when they apply for jobs, they should have an even higher degree of success.”

Renee Kuharski, assistant vice president for career and technical education, said the Bachelor of Applied Science offers students in the fire science program, for example, the skills and knowledge “to be a fire chief and maybe not have to leave the area.”

Jonathan Bradley, Eagle River Fire Protection District division chief and a contract officer for Vail Fire Emergency Services, has helped Colorado Mountain College work with local fire agencies to get its Associate of Applied Science in fire science technology linked to similar programs.

Bradley called the new local degree “a cost-effective way to train officers so they have what we’re looking for” when fire agencies recruit.

“Employers we talked to said a degree like this should give our students a leg up on getting hired,” Kuharski said. “With an expanded knowledge base, they should be able to advance in any number of career tech jobs.”

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