Guest column: CMC is a college on a (dual) mission

Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser

If you live in or travel to Colorado’s high country, it’s likely that you routinely pass a Colorado
Mountain College campus. CMC plays an important role in educating and training students of all
backgrounds for jobs and careers in the central mountain region. It is also helping lead a national
conversation about making college more accessible, innovative and relevant to modern learners
and employers.

Founded nearly 60 years ago specifically to serve remote mountain towns without a college or
university nearby, CMC has always been responsive to regional needs. At its founding, long
before the internet and internationally accessible airports, this meant building campuses from the
ground up and training students to be typesetters and ranchers. Today, CMC specializes in the
needs of the modern tourism and outdoor-industry-based economies, educating students to
become first responders and nurses, experts in sustainability and digital media, ski area
operators, avalanche scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs and more.

In the post-pandemic world, CMC is focused on training the workforce of today and looking
ahead to meet the needs and interests of all learners, regardless of their station in life. CMC is
adaptable, teaching virtually and in-person, in blocks of time that better fit the needs of students
and employers. And while remaining highly affordable, the college is investing resources into
infrastructure that delivers high value to local economies, opportunities enabled by the college’s
unique role and purpose.

Under state law, CMC is officially Colorado’s only dual mission college or university and one of
an estimated 400 nationwide. Dual mission institutions most often serve rural communities and
are the only physical postsecondary option where they are located. They intentionally offer both
technical training and liberal arts programs and a mix of degree offerings aligned with local and
regional workforce needs. They are neither a so-called “two-year” or “four-year” college — they
are both.

CMC offers what its communities need and demand — just as it did on its first day of classes.
Today this is a blend of bachelor’s and associate degrees, specialized certificates, concurrent
enrollment classes for high school students, and continuing education and community courses.
CMC recently hosted the annual National Dual Mission Summit, drawing together an engaged
mix of delegates and presenters — including Gov. Polis and representatives from national
philanthropic and policy organizations, business and industry, and other dual mission institutions
— to discuss successes in innovations, common stumbling blocks and shared dreams for
revolutionizing higher education.

Importantly, while CMC and institutions like it are adapting quickly, it is challenging to turn a
giant ship. The Carnegie Classification System, for example, is a 50-year-old framework for
categorizing American colleges and universities. The Carnegie system organized colleges into
fairly generic buckets by the types of degrees they confer and the amount of research money
gathered and spent. In the ’70s, there was not a “bucket” for dual mission institutions (there still
isn’t). Consequently, colleges that strive to be nimble, innovative and a “both/and” not only have
to adapt their internal systems, but must push to reform external ones as well.

While much of these policy conflicts are rightly of minimal concern to the average person, the
misalignment between CMC’s internal goals and the realities of external systems illustrates why
the status quo often doesn’t work for rural communities. It didn’t work in 1965 when the college’s
founders blazed new educational trails in the high country, and it doesn’t work in the 21st century
with local economies that demand employees with specialized skills and adaptability.

Because of its unique funding and operating model, CMC is fortunate to be in a position to
effectively adapt to new challenges and accommodate new opportunities. Ever focused on
programs with strong demand and high wages in mountain towns, CMC recently added three
high-fidelity nursing simulation labs, is contemplating programs in oral health and radiology, and
launched bachelor’s degrees in human services and ecosystems science and stewardship to meet
explicit requests from area employers. And, later this year, the college will open new student
housing opportunities in Breckenridge, the Vail Valley, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat

The realities of the modern higher education marketplace are exceedingly challenging and
require innovation, adaptation and courage. Thanks to a gutsy board of trustees and talented and
adventurous faculty and staff, CMC has continued to achieve success in spite of major changes
underway nationally. Together, we will boldly storm and non-conform with the same hopeful,
steadfast conviction that defines CMC’s past, present and future.

Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is president & CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be
reached at or @CMCPresident.

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