Giving Thought: Helping kids ‘college and career ready’ | AspenTimes.com

Giving Thought: Helping kids ‘college and career ready’

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Recently, we've devoted this column to individuals working to affect positive change in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. This week we're speaking with Dr. Matt Gianneschi, chief operating officer and chief of staff at Colorado Mountain College. Gianneschi coordinates and oversees the day-to-day internal operations of CMC and works closely with the Aspen Community Foundation on several aspects of our Cradle to Career Initiative, which seeks to prepare all of the region's 20,000 children for success in school and life.

Aspen Community Foundation: First, please give us an overview of Colorado Mountain College and the services it provides to Coloradans.

Matt Gianneschi: Colorado Mountain College is a public, local district college that provides post-secondary and community education to nearly 20,000 students at 11 campuses throughout Colorado's north-central Rockies. The college is entering its 50th year of providing professional-technical, personal enrichment and transfer-oriented academic programs. CMC also offers bachelor's degrees in high-demand fields such as nursing and elementary education.

ACF: Second, tell us about some of the collaborative programs that you're working on with the Aspen Community Foundation.

MG: I am a member of the leadership team for the Cradle to Career Initiative and a co-chair of the "College and Career Ready" strategy group, which combines experts from K-12, higher education and nonprofits in an effort to boost the number of local high school graduates who are ready to enter college without need for remediation, or to start their careers with livable wages. Through this work, CMC has developed close relationships with the region's public school leaders and launched an effort to improve college coaching in the high schools. These college counselors are helping to increase the number of students participating in CMC concurrent enrollment programs, applying to college, completing financial-aid forms and actually enrolling in college.

We have also partnered with the Community Foundation to provide additional scholarships to students in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.

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To support and inform these and other Cradle to Career programs, CMC also provides research data to the Community Foundation's board, community leaders and investors in these regional educational programs. Tracking student outcomes helps to ensure our initiatives are on the right track.

Finally, Aspen Community Foundation is the fiscal agent for a major regional college-readiness initiative organized by CMC called the Mountain Futures Fund. Through the Mountain Futures Fund, we provide funding to high schools throughout the region to expand concurrent enrollment participation, pay for college application fees and college visits, and increase college counseling in the schools. This has proven extremely effective.

As a result of CMC's partnership with organizations like Aspen Community Foundation, the Mountain Futures Fund received the second largest investment ($400,000) in the entire state of Colorado, next to only the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which serves the state's largest school district.

ACF: How will you know if these initiatives are working? What results do you hope to see?

MG: There are no panaceas in education. It takes time for initiatives to take hold and demonstrate sustainable impacts. However, through the partnerships created in part by the Community Foundation, CMC has reached historically high levels of external funding for community initiatives and scholarships. We've seen significant growth in concurrent enrollment, and we've seen enrollments of local students increase each of the past three years. We are especially proud that enrollments of local Hispanic/Latino students outpace enrollment growth among other students. In fact, if our campuses were viewed separately, the sites in Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale would all be considered "Hispanic serving institutions," a federal definition for colleges where Hispanic/Latino students represent at least 25 percent of the population.

ACF: Finally, are there other gaps to fill? Do you have future initiatives in mind?

MG: In the future, we hope to see continued growth in concurrent enrollment programs, particularly those programs that allow students to earn college certificates and degrees while still in high school. CMC is deeply committed to the success of its local high school students. In light of the ever-diminishing state funding for public schools, CMC embraces its responsibility to ensure that all local students have access to high-quality post-secondary programs. We will not waver regarding this commitment.

Turnover among school district and high school leaders remains an ever-present challenge for colleges. Every time a superintendent or principal leaves, the college must build new relationships, learn the new leaders' priorities and ensure that our programs are consistent with their plans. Through the Cradle to Career Initiative, however, CMC is able to maintain close relationships with all local education leaders and to share ideas that are working well across the region.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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