SUMMIT COUNTY - Nearly 200 students will graduate today from Colorado Mountain College's Summit Campus, and school officials have a lot to celebrate - increased local attendance, a new Breckenridge campus building, and legislation awaiting the governor's signature allowing the community college to offer four-year degrees. Pending necessary approvals, CMC will offer some preliminary upper-level classes as early as fall 2010, and up to five full baccalaureate degree programs by the following fall. Until now, the college has only offered two-year associate's degrees.
"It's historic times for CMC," said Sen. Dan Gibbs (D-Summit County). "For me, it's really exciting to be a part of creating a positive change for CMC."
Gibbs introduced the CMC legislation earlier this year as an advocate for the community college serving Colorado's mountain region - an area he said was grossly underserved in terms of access to higher education. Once the measure receives Gov. Bill Ritter's OK, the college's four-year program must be approved by the Higher Learning Commission and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
Alterations to CMC's degree offerings come at a time when its Summit campus is already changing - since Breckenridge's brand new campus building opened last August, local interest in classes and events has exploded.
Located at Highway 9 and Coyne Valley Road, the new $14 million Breckenridge CMC building is accommodating new courses with three times more classroom and lab space. A brand-new kitchen classroom is supporting an expanded culinary program, and the amphitheater is hosting plenty of local events.
"This new facility lends itself to an academic environment," said Summit campus CEO Alton Scales. "It's bright, spacious and state-of-the-art. It's rapidly becoming the first iconic symbol as you drive into Breckenridge, and it's allowed us to do things that we've only been able to think about in the past."
CMC administrators are also taking advantage of lower construction costs to start a small expansion project at the college's Dillon Center on Fiedler Avenue. Work on the addition was planned to start this month, and it will create a new 800-square-foot multi-purpose classroom to help with increasing student demands. Local student enrollment has been increasing more than 16 percent in recent semesters.
"When I came here, we were the fourth biggest CMC school," Scales said. "This year, our head count puts us at number two. Our size is ahead of two residential campuses. In the future, I foresee a residence hall, an addition expansion on the other side of the county (Dillon), and the four-year degree will compliment that tremendously. Strategically, we're the very first stop coming through the tunnel, which makes us ripe for expansion. Who doesn't want to come to Summit County?"
With all the activity surrounding CMC's Summit campus, it's no surprise this year's graduating class has increased in size as well.
According to CMC spokeswoman Debbie Crawford, the 2010 graduating class is 18 percent bigger than 2009 - 170 compared to 144, respectively.
"The increase is pretty much in line (with overall participation)," Crawford said. "As of March 31, compared to the same time last year, there's 22 percent more students at the Summit campus. ... People are excited and want to be in a new classroom building. They've become more aware of us."
Despite increased interest caused by the new Breck building, "part of that (uptick in interest) certainly is the recession," Crawford added. "Community college enrollment is up across the country - and CMC campuses - because we offer affordable training."
Dr. Dawn Zoni, a student development counselor at the Summit campus, agrees with Crawford's assessment.
"When the economy started going down two years, students started coming to CMC for a year or two before going on to the Front Range," Zoni said. "And we're definitely seeing more Summit High students planning to attend."
Zoni also noted many Front Range students taking CMC classes during the summer session.
"We're seeing that throughout the college," Crawford said. "Because of the recession, students are wanting to stay closer to home, and it's an affordable choice for families."
Crawford said college officials "will confer 80 associate degrees in majors from nursing to fire science technology, 89 certificates of occupational proficiency in everything from entrepreneurship to website development, and 22 general equivalency diplomas."
CMC's commencement ceremony will start at 5 p.m. today at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Graduating student Kathleen Summers, who earned her associate of arts degree, is the student speaker and master of ceremonies. Gibbs will serve as the commencement speaker.
"I'm excited to be able to share my experiences with the students," said Gibbs, noting that he attended the CMC-Leadville campus directly out of high school.
A dessert reception will follow graduation ceremonies at the Riverwalk Center.
For more information, call (970) 453-6757.
Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at email@example.com