Because there's some confusion about a bill now in the state Legislature, which would permit Colorado Mountain College to offer a limited number of bachelor's degrees, we wanted to clarify a few points.
First, who would benefit. Here's a snapshot of our average student: She's a woman, in her mid-30s, who works several jobs. On her own or with a spouse, she is also raising a family. She's taking several classes, on top of her other responsibilities, because she knows education is the key to a better life for herself and her family. To earn a four-year degree and become an even-more-valuable employee, she doesn't have the option of driving hundreds of miles to attend class, or uprooting her family from school, work and housing.
For years we have heard pleas from these students, and their employers: Help me earn my bachelor's degree so that I don't have to turn my family's life upside down to move ahead.
We are conducting comprehensive surveys throughout our district to determine exactly what types of degrees would be in demand, should we be permitted to offer them. Initial results indicate people want business degrees that support our resort economy, as well as K-12 teacher education. But we want hard, comprehensive data in hand before we develop degree programs.
Second, the motivation for the bill. Passage of the bill would not change our community college mission of providing access to education. The communities we serve - across an area the size of Maryland - have no in-person access to bachelor's degrees.
We know that online degrees are an option for some. In fact, this spring compared to last we've seen a 50 percent increase in the number of students taking our own distance courses. But distance learning is not for everyone.
Third, the stance of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has taken no position on the bill now in the Senate education committee, contrary to what you might have heard elsewhere. The commissioners have asked that we clarify some of the bill's wording, but they voted neither against nor in support of it.
The staff of the Colorado Department of Higher Education (a different entity) would like CMC to wait until a statewide strategic plan is done, and therefore they oppose the bill; however, the commissioners didn't follow this staff recommendation.
The Colorado Declaration on Higher Education, signed by the state department of higher education in 2005, stated that access to higher education, to the maximum degree possible, shall be made available to every Colorado resident. While we respect the opinion of the CDHE to wait, we believe this bill supports providing that access now. We believe it is what our students, and our communities, want.
Our initiative would also align us with the state's P-20 Education Council goal. This goal is to double the number of post-secondary certificates and degrees by 2017. By meeting the unmet needs of people in our district, we hope to do our part to grow the number of Colorado's college graduates.
And fourth, the process for moving forward. As I write this editorial, the bill is in the education committee of the state Senate. In addition to Sen. Gibbs as sponsor, it is supported by a dozen other senators. If it passes out of committee, it will then go to a vote of the full Senate. If it makes it past that step, a similar bill co-sponsored by Reps. Scanlan and Massey, and supported by seven others, would go through the same steps in the House. It would then go forward to the governor's office. It's a long process, but we hope it results in better educational opportunities for the community members we serve.
Dr. Stan Jensen is president of Colorado Mountain College.
Editor's note: The bill passed out of committee Wednesday. See story on page 4.