Colorado Mountain College president talks future goals |

Colorado Mountain College president talks future goals

Carrie Besnette Hauser became president of Colorado Mountain College in December. She visited Summit County on Wednesday, Sept. 17, to update local faculty and community leaders about CMC's new priorities, goals and responses to statewide changes in workforce requirements, demographics and higher education funding.
Courtesy Colorado Mountain College |


3: The U.S. Department of Education ranked Colorado Mountain College as the third most affordable public four-year degree in the country.

7: Campuses

8: Athletes who competed in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games studied at CMC

9: Counties served.

11: Locations

17: Ranking out of nearly 800 community colleges for successful graduation and transfer rates by CNN/Money

38: Average age of part-time student

71: Percent of the college’s budget comes from local property taxes

80.4: Percent of students are from Colorado

3,717: Full-time credit students in the 2012-13 year

19,200: Students now attend annually

500,000-plus: Students served since opened in 1967

Source: Colorado Mountain College

Colorado Mountain College is doing its best to respond to drastic changes in the state’s workforce needs, demographics and funding of higher education.

That was the message the college’s president, Carrie Besnette Hauser, brought to Summit County this week.

Hauser and a handful of other college executives met with about a dozen community leaders in Summit County Wednesday, Sept. 17, to talk about the college’s priorities and goals for the next few years.

Unlike the strategic plans created by other organizations that just sit on shelves, “ours is a calling,” Hauser said. “It’s really intentional.”

The college’s recently created strategic plan will drive budgeting and everything else its leaders do across the campuses, which Hauser compared to the arms of an octopus — all are equally important.

For the next four years, the college has prioritized student success, teaching and learning, access, community and economic development, and organizational effectiveness. Hauser said she specifically wants to focus on diversity and inclusivity as well as the college’s branding.


This fall, the college will roll out its nursing bachelor’s degree, the third bachelor’s degree to complete the accreditation process. Sustainability studies and business administration came first, and nursing will be followed by teacher education and applied science bachelor’s programs.

The new degree aligns with the current direction of the health care industry, which now requires nurses to have more education. At St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, all nurses are being pushed to have master’s degrees, said Deb Edwards, the hospital’s president and chief development officer.

CMC is also partnering more with local businesses to create programs for their employees, as evidenced by the college’s new three-year electrician apprenticeship program funded by Climax Molybdenum Co.

“We can design courses for you,” said Matt Gianneschi, the college’s COO, to some people at the meeting concerned that today’s young people don’t have adequate verbal and written communication skills. “It doesn’t have to come in the form of a degree.”

At the Summit County campuses, vice president Dave Askeland highlighted CMC’s growing internship programs.

In the last three years, 25 students have completed internships with businesses like Summit Greasecycling, nonprofits like High Country Conservation Center and agencies like the district attorney’s office, he said. One student is about to start an internship in Bangladesh.


In Colorado’s mountain communities, what a typical student looks like has changed greatly in the last decade, and CMC is working to better reflect that.

Over CMC’s service area, 37 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade are Hispanic or Latino. In Summit County, that number is 33 percent, in Eagle County it’s 50 percent, and the portion jumps to 70 percent in Lake County.

Meanwhile, just 17 percent of CMC students were Hispanic or Latino last year, and the fact that the local Hispanic population isn’t proportionally represented at the college plays a direct role in the state’s achievement gap.

Colorado has the third widest college attainment achievement gap between white and minorities in the country, behind Nebraska and California.

Gianneshi shared 2009 Census data for Colorado, which shows that about one in three minority adults age 25 to 44 have not completed high school, while one in three white adults the same age have a bachelor’s degree.

That’s why the college aspires to be the most inclusive college in the country, Hauser said, with a diverse, representative student body and faculty and a culturally competent environment.

One person at the meeting asked why the college started charging students for its English as a second language classes.

The decision predates Hauser, who started as president in December, but the idea might have been that students would commit more to classes if they were paying something. She said the college should reconsider the issue.


When CMC was founded in 1965, about 15 percent of high school graduates went to college. That worked for the labor force.

Today, economic forecasters predict more and more Colorado residents will need to have higher degrees if they want jobs. By 2020, Colorado’s economy will require three in four workers have some kind of post-secondary education, Gianneschi said.

Though Colorado ranks at the top in terms of states with the most highly educated residents, he said, only about 48 percent of residents have a college degree. Bridging that gap and increasing the portion of college-educated residents in the next six years to meet that 2020 laborforce expectation will be a huge challenge, he said.

Because the state’s high school graduation rate is about 75 percent, he said, almost every high school student who graduates will have to go to college.

“The context of college being an option, it’s really not optional,” he said.

Hauser called CMC part of the solution and referenced the region’s mining history.

“We need to mine our own raw material, polish that and find the diamonds in the rough,” she said.

Otherwise, Askeland said, most of Colorado’s college-educated workforce will be transplants.

“We’re either going to grow them from within, or they’re going to come from out of state,” he said.


One of CMC’s new initiatives is eliminating the number of students needing to take remedial courses when they start college.

About half of the students who enter college in Colorado need remediation, Hauser said, and CMC can lower that percentage through partnerships with school districts.

For example, the Summit County college campuses could train high school math and English teachers to serve as adjuncts, Gianneschi said. With that kind of arrangement, the college could tell Summit High School that none of their students will graduate needing remediation.

“That’s a really big change,” he said. “They’ve never had a guarantee like that.”

Another way the college wants to reach out to high schoolers is by automatically enrolling students who would be the first in their families to attend college.

There’s no reason CMC can’t send every high school graduate a letter that says they’re already admitted to the college, Hauser said, which would let those first-generation students know they’re wanted at CMC.

Lee Zimmerman, executive director of The Summit Foundation, agreed the college should increase its outreach to those students who dream of attending large, prestigious schools but become dismayed when they see university price tags.

“I’m not sure they understand the gem that’s here,” he said.

Sending a letter to local high school grads would reach them too late in the application process, he said, so the college should work on its marketing to high school counselors who might be sending students to their alma maters.

Hauser said the college will work on its marketing message to high school counselors as well as second-home owners who could be donating to CMC but likely make alumni contributions elsewhere.


Like all public colleges and universities, CMC is feeling the effects of cuts in state funding to higher education, which have hit particularly hard in Colorado.

The state dropped from 15th in the country to 49th in recent years for state funding of higher education, a change that has led to rising tuition costs for students.

County Commissioner Dan Gibbs asked how CMC deals with the “turf war” between postsecondary education institutions competing for funding and student tuition dollars.

Hauser said the college has weathered the cuts better than other institutions thanks to its unique funding structure.

Local property taxes provide 71 percent of the college’s 2014-15 budget revenues, a much higher portion than almost every other community college in the country, she said.

Property tax values have dropped in the recession though, Gibbs said, estimating that the college has lost “easily a million” dollars in revenue over the last five years since the housing market crash.

“We certainly have felt it,” Hauser said, but the college has been somewhat protected by its widespread tax base, which includes counties where values didn’t drop as much.

Gianneschi added that CMC keeps its reserve balance at 25 percent of its operating budget, which has helped too.

“We did make quite a few cuts,” he said, prioritizing keeping tuition low.

Student tuition and fees provide 17 percent of this year’s budget, and 11 percent comes from state funding.

One of the CMC’s seven elected board members, Bob Taylor, said though the college recently liquidated a building, CMC has run out of buildings to sell so it must look at how it can raise tuition.

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