First four-year degree students celebrate at Colorado Mountain College |

First four-year degree students celebrate at Colorado Mountain College

Summit Daily/Jessica Smith

Students, faculty and family will experience a milestone in Colorado Mountain College history at the graduation ceremony this afternoon. When the names are called and the degrees handed out, up to 58 students will be holding the first-ever bachelor’s degrees available from CMC.

“This is a whole new venture for us,” said senior vice president of student affairs Brad Tyndall. “This first graduating class is a really big deal for us. It’s a historic moment for us and our community and our bachelor’s degree students.”

The journey to the bachelor’s degree offerings started back in 2010, when the college conducted a broad-based community and student survey to ascertain which degrees were of interest or would be of use to people. Business topped the list at number one, while sustainability also ranked high.

CMC officials then put together 17 different teams to do further research, analyzing job markets, national trends and business surveys in order to design the right curriculum. The process went rapidly and the college was able to announce its offering of a bachelor’s of science in business administration and a bachelor’s of arts in sustainability for the 2011-2012 school year.

“It was amazing. We basically got it accomplished in a year, which is almost truly miraculous. It usually takes longer,” Tyndall said. “There’s a whole lot of people to thank, including the students.”

After instituting the new bachelor’s degree program, administrators were unsure what the response would be. In fact, the numbers exceeded initial projections and have continued to climb. In 2011-12, the first year the program was offered, 222 students were enrolled in upper-division classes, as compared with the projected estimates of 150. This year’s preliminary numbers, which will be confirmed in June, have 404 students enrolled, in comparison with an anticipated 300. While these numbers may include a handful of students who are only taking individual classes, the vast majority of students enrolled are working toward bachelor’s degrees.

The addition of bachelor’s degrees is a big step for the college, Tyndall said. Instead of transferring to schools on the Front Range and throughout the state, or opting for expensive online degrees, students can now continue on with their schooling at CMC.

“It opens the gate for so many different people,” he said. While the bachelor’s degrees have “changed the face of CMC,” Tyndall emphasized, “we still have the soul of a college that cares for people, looks out for their future. We’re still that, but (now) we can do so much more for helping people advance.”

Administrators at CMC are starting to look into further bachelor’s degree possibilities. While nothing is certain yet, as every step requires various levels of approval, some “serious study” is being given to a bachelor’s of applied sciences, a bachelor’s of science in nursing and a bachelor’s of arts in interdisciplinary studies. Depending on approval, the applied sciences and interdisciplinary studies degrees could be available as soon as the upcoming school year, while the nursing degree may come in 2014.

For the moment, however, Tyndall and the others at CMC are happy to focus on this year’s graduating class and the success of the current program.

“I am really thankful for so many people working so hard to get this miracle off the ground,” Tyndall said. “It was so good to see that it all worked out.”

Deciding to double up

Rumors of the upcoming bachelor’s degrees reached brothers Cody and Tyler Jensen and their friend and classmate Hayden Van Andel close to the end of their second year at CMC. Friends since high school, the three had been working towards their associate’s degree in business and unhappy about the prospect of having to move on to another college.

“At the time, all of us were dreading having to possibly go down to the Front Range or go somewhere else for school,” Van Andel said.

A native of Breckenridge, Van Andel chose CMC for its proximity to his family as well as to the mountains. A competitive freestyle and slopestyle skier in high school, having the slopes nearby was very important.

For the Jensen twins, CMC was essentially the main goal behind their move into the state from Wisconsin for their senior year of high school.

“We were definitely going to CMC,” Tyler Jensen said of his and his brother’s choice in college.

The why of Colorado is simple — skiing.

“Breckenridge was one of our first vacations,” Cody Jensen said. In order to qualify for the more affordable in-state tuition, the entire family, including their parents, picked up and moved to Breckenridge.

Upon hearing the rumors of the bachelor’s degrees, the Jensens and Van Andel discussed the possibility of taking off a year and coming back when the degrees became available. Then the announcement came that the degrees would be offered that following year.

“It was a perfect, fluid transition,” Tyler said.

While the original plan was to continue on with the business degree, discussion during the summer eventually put all three on a new path.

“Over the summer we had an epiphany that we need to get the sustainability degree also,” Tyler said, “because it’s affordable, it would couple well with the business degree, and I think the sustainability aspect, having that second degree puts you over the top of the rest. Those kids looking for jobs, they’re abundant, and bachelor’s in business is abundant in the workplace. Definitely this puts us over the top trying to find jobs.”

This certainty was solidified as they began taking the sustainability courses.

“We found it really intriguing and just enlightening in so many ways, that all three of us just kind of, we had a whole new reality basically,” Van Andel said. “It’s a little dramatic but that’s how it felt. All three of us felt like the world had flipped upside down and that the business degree was important, but the sustainability degree was going to be the one that was going to push us ahead.”

Deciding to shoot for two bachelor’s degrees in as many years is one thing, but the execution is another. Nevertheless, Van Andel and the Jensens put their heads down and took on a heavy load of classes to compensate. While most students at CMC take around 15 credit hours per semester on average, the three of them took almost twice that — 28 credit hours this fall and 31 credit hours this spring, for example.

“They were in my class, I taught sustainable economics, and I saw the level of work,” Tyndall said of the three students. “They were hard working, tired looking to a certain extent, but they were also just amazing students, hard working, intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable.”

Having the support of the faculty at the college made a big difference, the three students said, particularly while juggling the extra course load and, in Van Andel’s case, a part-time job.

“We love the school, we’re very proud of the education,” Tyler said.

His brother agreed. “The fact that we were so stoked when they went to the four-year and the fact that we were willing to take a year off and travel just so that they would kind of get their thing together, says a lot, because we love that school.”

While Van Andel plans to eventually pursue his graduate’s degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, he said he will miss CMC and look back at his time fondly.

“CMC has just offered so much in comparison to other universities I’ve witnessed. Some of my friends talk about it, and I mean, I feel like I couldn’t have gotten a better education at a bigger university than I did at CMC,” he said. “I mean, the instructors are excellent, just every single one I’ve had. All the class sizes, they’re just tailored to a better, more efficient learning experience. You’re able to interact, really say your mind, understand the concepts a little better and the location, you can’t ask for a much better environment. I can’t imagine going to school somewhere else, I just couldn’t imagine doing it. I’m just so enthused that CMC has this program available. It’s been a lot of fun.”

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