Colorado Mountain College to expand bachelor’s degree offerings after state approval |

Colorado Mountain College to expand bachelor’s degree offerings after state approval

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily
Colorado Mountain College campus Thursday, April 11, in Breckenridge.
Hugh Carey /

Colorado Mountain College has received state approval to expand its bachelor’s degree offerings, which will give Summit County and Western Slope residents more four-year degree options and opportunities to live, learn and work in the High Country.

Gov. Jared Polis signed HB 19-1153 into law April 5. The bill was sponsored by a bipartisan mountain delegation, including Summit’s own Rep. Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) and Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), and passed both houses of the state Legislature unanimously.

The act authorizes CMC, a public institution, to expand the number of bachelor’s degree programs from the five offered there since 2010 to a “limited” number of bachelor’s programs. A definite number of additional offerings will be decided by the school’s board of trustees after consultation with Western Slope communities and the state Department of Higher Education. The college will take into account community and regional needs when finalizing new program offerings.

Testifying in favor of the expanded bachelor program offerings last week were two Summit County locals, current CMC student Stephanie Beste and recent CMC graduate Flor Cruz Valdez, who both benefited from the introduction of bachelor’s degrees to CMC back in 2010.

Beste started her higher education at CMC two decades ago, when she got her GED there. She went on to spend long hours commuting to Denver for a dental certificate, and then earned two associate degrees at CMC Breckenridge. Beste is now a nontraditional student and financial aid adviser at CMC, and is close to completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

In her testimony to the House and Senate Education committees, Beste urged legislators to pass the bill and give High Country residents the freedom to learn and grow where they live.

“I ask you to think about (people living in) our rural communities,” Bestes told the committees. “Help them stay without the complete relocation of their families. Keep them here to receive their bachelor’s. Help us grow the people around us.”

Valdez, the first member of her family to complete college, also earned a bachelor’s of business administration from CMC Breckenridge. She now works at CMC as an academic adviser. Valdez testified that shortly after starting classes at the college she lost her mother to cancer. Valdez said she was able to move forward and complete her education because of the community within and around CMC Breckenridge, a critical component to higher education.

“Colorado Mountain College gave me the opportunity to be part of a community when I had nothing else left,” Valdez told legislators. “As an adviser myself now, I see a lot of CMC students come back to pursue that dream that I once had. I see them … wanting to be part of a community, wanting to better themselves and to learn and grow. So today I ask of you to please think of students like me, and many other students who have their own stories.”

At the moment, CMC offers bachelor’s degrees in nursing, elementary education, business administration, sustainability studies and leadership and management. CMC has 11 campuses with 20,000 students across six counties — Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Lake, Garfield, Routt and Summit, where CMC has campuses in Breckenridge and Dillon.

“Colorado Mountain College is a gem in the higher education system,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, one of the bill’s prime co-sponsors. “It is a very powerful model of education for our kids to be able to graduate from high school and go to a CMC campus near their home in a rural or resort community, and then be able to choose to do a two- or four-year degree. It is especially important for first-generation college students or those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to maintain support systems and to be with families and friends, as well as able to live at home while getting their college degrees.”

McCluskie said that she would like to see secondary education as an offering, as it would create the kind of “grow your own teacher” ecosystem that could help with critical teacher shortages in the high country. McCluskie also would like to see a forestry degree introduced in association with Colorado State University, with foresters being another local need and career that could be cultivated in Summit County.

CMC communications director Debbie Crawford said that while more discussion is needed with various official agencies and stakeholders, secondary education is definitely an area the school is looking at for a bachelor’s degree. Others may be in high-growth fields such as health care and local government.

“Based on the lessons we learned in offering those first five degrees, we are being asked again by local residents, employers and taxpayers to broaden our degree offerings to meet workforce demands,” said CMC President Carrie Besnette Hauser in a statement. “Doing so will also contribute to Colorado’s higher education master plan and help to sustain the state’s dynamic and rapidly changing economy.”