Educating a global community |

Educating a global community

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent

SPRING VALLEY, Colorado ” Alex Vosicky is a typical Colorado Mountain College student. As typical as CMC students are now a days.

Vosicky, 23, raised in Fairhope, Alabama, arrived at the Spring Valley Campus south of Glenwood Springs in the fall of 2007 to participate in CMC’s Outdoor Education program.

“I’ve always had a high interest in the outdoors,” Vosicky said over a phone conversation, taking a break from rock climbing one day in early November.

His enjoyment of the outdoors, rock climbing specifically, and his interest in activities that were not as plentiful on the gulf coast of Alabama as in Colorado’s western slope, Vosicky found a place were he could nourish his interests and his education in the same place.

After graduating from high school, Vosicky traveled, and just through word-of-mouth heard about a community college in the Colorado’s high country that fit his interests.

“It sounded like a good spot for me to get a really good foundation of outdoor skills,” he said. “So, I decided to go into their outdoor education program.”

Vosicky’s story is no surprise to Colorado Mountain College president, Stan Jensen.

“Just the other day I met two students at the Spring Valley Campus, one from Massachusetts, and one from New Jersey,” Jensen said.

“I said, ‘Why’d you come out here?’ And they said, ‘Just loved the idea of going to Colorado and CMC had the programs I wanted,'” Jensen said.

Jensen, in his first year as president, added that CMC addresses many issues challenging prospective students, which makes it fairly attractive.

“We solve a lot of their problems,” Jensen said. “As far as a place to live, affordable education, perfect location, and all the credits transfer to a four-year institution and we offered the programs they wanted,” Jensen said.

In the four decades since CMC began, it has become much more than a college serving a single community. When CMC was established, 40 years ago, according to CMC director of public relations Debra Crawford, it had two campuses; One in Leadville, the other at Spring Valley. Today the school has expanded to include 12 locations at seven campuses in Colorado’s high country. The college district covers 12,000 square miles in nine counties.

Put simply, the college serves a very large community and that has it’s benefits, and its challenges.

“We can be a small college,” Crawford said. “At a small campus, your instructors get to know you more personally, but we have the advantages of being a bigger school in that you do have more choices of classes and a bigger schedule.”

Crawford added that the spread out district also provides students the opportunity to see more of the state. If they want to move to Leadville, they can, and still keep on the same educational track without hiccups.

The largest challenge is covering such a large area, being so spread out gives each campus a different feel unlike a large university or college that is housed in one community.

“It’s always a challenge to have a multi-site institution,” Jensen said. “But I think we are conquering that. You have to look out for the whole college, and not just what is best for your campus.”

Jensen says that all CMC has to offer, in terms of location, education, affordability, student diversity, and several learning options, contributes to the school’s nearly 4 percent growth in full-time equivalency (FTE) from the fall of 2007 to 2008. FTE is how CMC calculates the total number of credit hours that are being taken per semester. It doesn’t calculate total number of students, but could be one student taking 12 credit hours of courses, or four students each taking three credit hours per semester equaling a full time enrolled student.

Overall, the school is up nearly 7 percent in student population from last year.

“Do they come from out of state? I would guess that part of the number is driven by that,” Jensen said.

While CMC is currently experiencing growth, Jensen stressed that the college has also experienced periods where enrollment has dropped as well. However, being his first year at CMC he can’t speak from personal experience.

Jensen indicated that college enrollments tend to increase during tough economic times and that, too, could explain the recent growth at CMC. But according to Crawford, even when the local economy is booming CMC enrollments have challenged the trends.

“Over the past four years we’ve been seeing an increase in head count pretty steadily,” Crawford said.

A strong increase has been in non-credit classes and work-force training, according to Crawford.

“We’ve been paying attention,” Crawford said. “If our community wants more of those classes then we offer more of those type of classes. As a two-year institution we are able to change more quickly and we’ve got our fingers on the pulse of the community, so we can jump on it.”

In today’s world, it’s a wonder how people ever got through a day without the World Wide Web.

In the educational field, the Internet is more than a tool, it’s an educational revolution.

According to Jensen, the introduction of the Internet has significantly changed the way people learn today, and the way institutions teach. It’s also helped CMC deal with the distance issue between campuses if a student needs to take a class that may only be offered at a campus different from their primary campus.

“It really puts to death the distance problems because you are on the Web,” Jensen said.

Jensen recalled a report he had read that estimated by the year 2020, five billion people worldwide will be networked, or linked online.

And that is the direction that CMC wants to go as well.

“Obviously we see that trend and want to be a part of it.”

Already the college is starting to offer more online and hybrid courses, where part of the class is taught online and part is classroom instruction.

Being a two-year institution, Jensen said that a majority of students that attend CMC transfer to a four-year institution. But the Internet could, and already is, changing that.

CMC already has partnerships, as do many other community colleges, with several four-year institutions like Mesa State and Regis University, allowing students to achieve their bachelors degree by taking all the classes from a CMC location.

“You should be able to come here and get your masters degree in the near future, and you won’t have to travel,” Jensen said. “That way you can save money and time.”

While many students are seeking an associates degree, like Vosicky, CMC has seen an increase in students taking non-credit courses which include a wide array of topics from ceramics, to advanced skiing.

Over the past decade, CMC trends show that in-district enrollments have decreased slightly from nearly 60 percent to about 45 percent. However, over that same time, non-credit courses have increased from about 12 percent in 1998-99, to 35 percent in 2007-08.

Out-of-state and in-state enrollments have remained pretty steady over the same time period, slightly below 10 percent.

The Roaring Fork Campus in Carbondale, and the Spring Valley Campus have seen significant increases in non-credit courses of 20 percent in some cases.

However, the West Garfield County Campus in Rifle has seen a nearly 50 percent increase in students taking non-credit courses.

“The percentage of enrollment for in-district credit classes has fallen a bit over the past 10 years, but at the same time enrollment for non-credit classes has increased steadily,” Crawford said. “Basically, our local students have been slightly more interested in taking non-credit courses than credit courses in recent years.”

Vosicky says that life at Spring Valley is just like you would expect college life to be.

“It doesn’t feel like a community college,” Vosicky said. “Because of it’s size it does feel like a community college, with smaller class sizes and all that stuff. But it has that feel that you are actually going to a college somewhere. You’re not just up the road taking classes.”

CMC has three locations with residence halls, or dorms; The Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs, Timberline Campus in Leadville, and the Spring Valley Campus. For the first time in 11 years, all three residence halls were full at the beginning of the current school year.

“The two sites, Steamboat and Spring Valley have been filled before,” Crawford said. “But the Leadville hall has been the one that we’ve not been able to fill before.”

This year’s population of enrolled students at CMC is 23,000. The Spring Valley residence hall started the year at 238 students, and was at 231 as of early October.

One of the reasons the residence hall is filled is the fact that it’s the most affordable housing available for students attending the campus. But, students living in the residence hall have to be full-time students.

However, the location of the campus in the Roaring Fork Valley, makes for a very interesting mix of students.

According to data compiled by CMC’s institutional research, CMC has enrolled students from 51 states and U.S. territories other than Colorado, and 83 countries of citizenship from around the world. Something that makes CMC even more unique in Vosicky’s eyes.

“Absolutely. Two of my other good friends I’ve made at CMC are from other states,” Vosicky said. “Jake is from Florida and Steve is from Rhode Island. I feel like living in the dorms, it’s more out-of-state students than in-state.”

And that gives the students like Vosicky, the college experience they were looking for.

“You’ve got that big school feeling in the sense that you are meeting people from all over the United States, and in some cases all over the world,” Vosicky said. “It’s crazy like that.”

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