Vail Daily column: Colorado Mountain College is reaching new heights
During my first nine months with Colorado Mountain College, I have traveled and spent considerable time at all 11 of our campuses and learning locations spread across 12,000 square miles of our picturesque state. I have spent countless hours with CMC students and employees, elected and government officials, business and community leaders, educators, thoughtful citizens and taxpayers. All of these groups exemplify the very best of Colorado’s past and future, from the bold determination and imagination of the college’s early pioneers to the generosity of our philanthropic donors, local businesses, property owners and public sector partners. Without exception, I am convinced of their deep commitment to our state’s Western Slope and to the education of its people.
For nearly 50 years, the mission of Colorado Mountain College has been clear — to provide access to an affordable and high-quality college education, right here in the beautiful central Rockies, to anyone who enters our doors. CMC has fulfilled this mission with distinction for generations, and will continue to do so, though the ways it will be accomplished will evolve to meet the changing needs of our communities.
The typical college student today is anything but “typical” according to historical definitions. If you were to walk into a CMC class this semester, then you’d see a blend of 18-year-old first time college goers, transfer students, working adults, concurrently enrolled high schoolers and recent immigrants. You’d meet individuals starting new careers or businesses, improving their computing or language skills, finishing the bachelor’s degree they started 20-plus years ago and learning for pure joy in retirement. Our college serves all of these students and is preparing to take on the next big change in our region and our economy.
Unlike generations past, today’s students will enter an economy in which 75 percent of all jobs will require some form of post-secondary education. This “degree demand” is unlike anything the nation or our region has ever experienced. Additionally, our population has changed and continues to change. Hispanic students now comprise 37 percent of K-12 school enrollments in CMC’s nine-county service area. (In many of our school districts, this percentage climbs to between 50 and 70 percent.) More than 50 percent of students, many lower income or the first in their families to attend college, enter CMC needing remedial coursework.
Meeting the workforce needs of our state and local economies means providing college access to the historically underserved populations currently enrolled in our K-12 pipeline and building systems (and our expectations) for their success.
How will we meet these demands? For Colorado Mountain College, it means working closely and boldly with our K-12 partners to ensure that all high schools have access to concurrent enrollment classes, that all students who graduate from high school in our region can seamlessly transition to college and that those same graduates are prepared to enter and succeed in college-level coursework. You read this right. Our goal is to ensure that no student who graduates from a high school in our service area will need remediation. This is an ambitious objective, but one that CMC is uniquely positioned and preparing to fulfill.
We must also create academic programs that meet the needs of local employers and which are delivered in ways that are accessible to the region’s citizens. From customized business programs, to bachelor’s degrees in high-demand fields such as nursing and teacher education, to online certificates and degrees in traditional and technical programs, to lifelong learning courses, CMC is committed to doing whatever it takes to strengthen and enhance our communities.
The team at Colorado Mountain College is hard at work to make these goals a reality. This past spring, the CMC board of trustees adopted a new strategic plan entitled “Reaching New Heights.” While many strategic plans sit on shelves collecting dust, ours is a calling and will guide our work for the next four years. It is so important to us that we are taking it on the road. Throughout September, my colleagues and I are engaging with key community leaders and college faculty and staff in a series of town hall meetings in Aspen, Breckenridge, Edwards, Glenwood Springs, Leadville, Rifle and Steamboat Springs. Our goals are to share information about the college’s strategic plan, discuss specifics regarding our directions and initiatives, listen to and gather feedback from stakeholders, and focus the college’s priorities for the coming year.
Since its humble and visionary beginnings in 1967, over a half million students from throughout the Rocky Mountains, the nation and the world have attended Colorado Mountain College. As the college prepares for its next 50 years, the challenges facing it will be unlike those of the past. CMC will be ready to face these changes with the grit and generosity exemplified by the people who call our region home, the primary “shareholders” of the college. Our aspiration is to become “ … 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.” I have every expectation that CMC will achieve this vision and so much more.
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. Reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @CMCPresident.
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