GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The Colorado Department of Higher Education wants Colorado Mountain College to hold off on its request before the state Legislature to offer four-year degree programs, until a new statewide higher education strategic plan is developed.
In December, Gov. Bill Ritter announced a strategic planning initiative to assess the state's higher education system and develop a comprehensive roadmap to guide Colorado's 27 public colleges and universities.
A steering committee will be working over the next several months on a set of recommendations to give to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
"The goal is to assess the future of higher education in the state, and identify what the proper role and mission of institutions should be ... how they relate to each other, and what partnerships can be developed," CDHE spokesman John Karakoulakis said Tuesday.
While the department is not opposed to the basic concept of CMC being allowed to offer some four-year degree programs, it would prefer the college wait for the recommendations of the strategic plan committee.
"We have spoken with CMC and the sponsors of the bill, and we are opposed to the legislation at this point," Karakoulakis said.
SB10-101, sponsored by Sens. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) and Dan Gibbs (D-Boulder) in the state Senate, and by Rep. Christine Scanlan (D-Eagle) in the House, would allow CMC to offer a limited number of four-year degree programs in areas such as nursing, teaching, business, resort management and environmental studies.
In November, the board of trustees of the six-county special CMC district voted unanimously to request that the legislation be introduced this session. The bill has its first hearing before the Senate Education Committee Thursday in Denver.
Although CMC receives some funding from the state, it is not part of the state community college system, and most of its financial support comes from local property taxes.
Several CMC supporters, including trustees and members of the CMC Foundation board, will be on hand Thursday testifying in support of the bill. Others have been encouraged to write letters to their legislators, CMC President Stan Jensen said.
Commenting after Monday's regular CMC board of trustees meeting at Spring Valley, Jensen said that, while the college respects the CDHE's opinion, it will continue to seek passage of the bill.
"We found out on Friday that the Colorado Department of Higher Education, while it agrees with the concept, would rather see us wait," he said. "We're disappointed, but we feel that it's very important for us to proceed.
"We really feel we want to do this now, not two or three years from now," Jensen added. "Our need is sooner, not at some future date."
The strategic plan steering committee, made up of education officials from around the state including former higher education commission members, held its first meeting last week. Karakoulakis said the committee is expected to make some short-term recommendations in about 30 days.
"We hope to have final recommendations as soon as possible," he said. "Our preference is that the steering committee have a chance to look at these issues before the [CMC] legislation goes forward."
If the CMC bill is passed by the education committee, it then goes to the full Senate for a vote. If the Senate passes the bill, a similar bill would be introduced in the House of Representatives.
"This would allow the residents living in our 12,000-square-mile service area to have access to an affordable alternative in higher education, without having to leave home," Jensen said in November when the board decided to pursue the four-year degree plan.
"We also see this as another way to do our part to meet the governor's goal of growing the number of college graduates in Colorado," he said.
Currently, CMC offers liberal arts and science certificates, associate degrees and business training at its seven campus locations throughout central and western Colorado. There are no four-year colleges with a physical presence within the CMC district.