Keeping young people in northwest Colorado has long been a focus of El Pomar Foundation's Northwest Regional Council (NWRC).
Now with a new collaboration between Colorado Mountain College, Colorado Northwestern Community College, Western Colorado Community College and Colorado Mesa University facilitated by the Council, more students will have the opportunity to stay in the region for college and career.
The project is being spearheaded by the NWRC, a local advisory board made up of community leaders from eight counties in northwestern Colorado that recommends grants to trustees of the foundation.
Over the past several years, the NWRC has focused its efforts on fostering and retaining a strong regional workforce, a challenge considering ebbs and flows that come with the oil and gas industry. Instead of attacking this issue on the back end with job skills training courses and remedial education for adults, the Council recently began thinking of ways to give local youth more opportunities to pursue higher education, along with the skills to become successful and contributing members of the community in northwest Colorado.
"The focus of the Council for many years has been on workforce issues. By capturing students early and giving them a path to higher education, the chances that these students will have the skills to find rewarding employment in the region greatly increase," said Council member Tom Kenning, Regional President of Alpine Bank.
Northwestern Colorado is home to the four collaborative institutions, which until six months ago, had never developed a formal relationship. In September 2012, presidents from each institution came together with the NWRC and left the meeting with a shared desire to benefit the largest number of youth in the region. They focused on coming together for the greater good of the region and created an innovative partnership.
The result of their collaboration is a three-phase educational pipeline funded by the NWRC. The pipeline begins with middle-school summer camps, continues with high school concurrent enrollment in local community college, and culminates with a transferable scholarship to any of the institutions.
"This partnership among CMC, CNCC and WCCC focuses on providing opportunities for as many students as possible, who otherwise would not pursue higher education and live in our region," said Yesenia Arreola, Youth Outreach Coordinator at CMC.
"We have agreed to work collaboratively on this effort because all of the participating institutions believe in this mission and we all have unique programs to offer that can expose the students to higher education early on in their academic careers," Arreola continued.
During the next four years, the Council has committed $600,000 to the pipeline. The educational institutions have agreed to match this amount, resulting in a total impact of $1.2 million over the next four years. The Council's commitment, as well as the institutions' match, will fund middle-school summer camps and scholarships for students in the program. The first series of summer camps will launch this summer with each college hosting at least one camp. Camps will range from energy to health sciences to auto mechanics.
"It is exciting to see collaboration between the institutions of higher education in our region," Kenning said. "Collaboration has created opportunities for students where it might not have existed otherwise."