CMC makes strides in offerings, student body
From humble roots, Colorado Mountain College has grown to offer 130 degrees and certificates with 20,000 students and more than 100 full-time employees across 11 locations in nine counties.
The mission, though, remains the same.
“We’re still very much what we were founded to be, which was an open door to higher education in the mountains,” said CMC President Carrie Hauser.
She cited the college’s vision statement: “We aspire to be the most inclusive and innovative student-centered college in the nation, elevating the economic, social, cultural and environmental vitality of our beautiful Rocky Mountain communities.”
“That’s what we’ve always been, and that’s where we’re going as well,” she said.
Doug Stewart, CMC marketing director and a former student, agreed.
“The personal connection has remained strong, and the overall quality of experience has grown,” he said.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been change.
“It was pretty loose, pretty funky,” Stewart said of CMC in 1984, when he arrived, bachelor’s degree already in hand, to pursue photography.
Although it was already in the process of expanding from its initial campuses at Spring Valley and Leadville, the presence in Carbondale amounted mostly to small office on Main Street. Around that time, CMC annexed a struggling college in Steamboat Springs.
“The people of Steamboat decided this was important to them and voted to tax themselves in a down year,” Stewart said. “Now when you go up there it’s thriving.”
After a stint as a reporter in Delta County and a stringer for Rocky Mountain News, Stewart came to CMC’s marketing department in an era when a Macintosh SE was high tech and ads and posters were sent to print on floppies. Since then, Stewart said, the rise of technology has helped turn the school’s campuses from autonomous operations to a single unit.
“I think the Internet has done the most to bring our campuses together,” he said.
It has also given the school a chance to improve its branding.
“I think the perception was, and it persists, that if you can’t get in anywhere else, go to CMC,” Stewart said.
To Stewart, that’s just not the case.
“Students who come here are well prepared for just about everything,” he said. “The quality of our education product has been confirmed by our graduates.”
Some CMC students have gone on to Cambridge, Cornell and Columbia, while others follow their passion closer to home.
Alex Sanchez, “a proud son of hardworking Mexican immigrants” and member of the Basalt High School class of 1999, credits CMC with setting him on the path to his current role as director of Stand for Children in Denver, an advocacy organization that fights for quality K-12 education, especially for low-income students.
“Education is the equalizer,” he said. “I’ve continued my involvement in the community and public service after college but it all started in this funky community college in the mountains.”
Sanchez almost never enrolled at all.
“Going to college — any college — seemed unrealistic to me when I first started high school. No one from my family or our family friends had ever attended college.”
His business teacher and counselor pushed him to try CMC’s concurrent enrollment program, and by the time he graduated high school he had half his associate degree under his belt.
“It was those early college courses at CMC … opened my eyes and inspired me to want to learn more,” he said.
While wrapping up his associate degree he also got hooked on public service in the form of mentoring and student government. He went on to study marine biology abroad in Belize and went to Colorado State University on a full ride. Had it been an option back then, Sanchez might have stuck around to pick up a bachelor’s at CMC.
“The four-year programs will help recruit out-of-state students, but it also allows local students to stay in their community,” he observed.
Offering a quintet of four-year degrees is just one feather in the school’s cap this year. Enrollments are up 18 percent, with a 42 percent increase in Latino students. The better reflection of local demographics may be assisted by automatic acceptance letters for high school graduates and a $1,000 scholarship for their first year.
Whether or not that’s not the vision the school’s founders had in 1965, it’s a step in the right direction.
“I’m optimistic about the future of CMC,” Sanchez said.
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“I don’t know how to feel about it,” said the Basalt firefighter who lost his home in the Lake Christine Fire last July about the sentence facing the couple who started the blaze.