Guest commentary: Five great years at Colorado Mountain College
As the Board of Trustees of Colorado Mountain College, we have a solemn duty to advance the mission of the college and, in doing so, serve the dozens of communities that make up CMC’s vast geographic service area.
This is accomplished in a number of ways: from monitoring and approving the college’s operating budget, to setting highly affordable tuition rates, to investing in and maintaining facilities that are used by students of all ages and backgrounds for special lectures, art shows, lifelong learning, child care and other important community activities.
Our most important job, however, is selecting a president to lead the institution.
Five years ago this month, Colorado Mountain College was emerging from a trying time in the college’s otherwise exemplary history. In spite of the slate of challenges facing a new leader, a uniquely talented individual, Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser, accepted the board’s invitation to guide the college forward.
With extensive experience in higher education, private foundations and government — not to mention a deep love for the outdoors, mountaineering, rivers and other passions ideally aligned with CMC’s character and region — Dr. Hauser accepted the board’s invitation in October 2013 to lead our treasured institution.
The results have been exceptional.
Since the time Dr. Hauser joined CMC, the college has performed exceedingly well. A complete list of deliverables from its 2014-18 strategic plan, Reaching New Heights, can be found at coloradomtn.edu. A few highlights are as follows:
• The college’s operating budget has grown, on average, less than inflation in every year that she has been president. Moody’s recently gave the college a financial rating of AA3, equal to the highest such rating in all higher education in Colorado, in part due to the college’s highly effective financial management and decision making.
• Internal improvements in budgeting and organizational policies have ensured that funds are well managed, accountable and transparent. CMC allocates funds equitably to all students and campuses, and the college is always under budget at the end of the fiscal year.
• Enrollments of local students — those residing in CMC’s service area — have reached historic highs, including a near 50 percent increase of local high school students receiving free college through concurrent enrollment.
• Five new bachelor’s degree programs were launched: business administration, sustainability studies, nursing, elementary education and applied science. Each received approval from their national accreditors and state authorizers. Students in these programs, which include nursing and teacher education, hail mostly from our local communities.
• Graduation and completion rates are up significantly and exceed the statewide performance benchmarks in all categories. The college is highly effective in preparing employees in critical fields in our rural mountain communities. Of note, Latino enrollments are up 47 percent and the graduation rate among Latino students is higher than any other population at the college.
During the past year, CMC proudly celebrated its 50th anniversary, paying tribute to its early founders and land donors, engaging thousands of alumni, employees and students, and thanking voters for creating a special local taxing district to support the college by a measure of 2-to-1. As trustees, we believe that the college is enjoying the best years in its history, and its future is very bright indeed.
Highly effective college and university leaders are in high demand nationally — and are often in scant supply. Thus, competition for great college presidents can be fierce. As one would expect, Dr. Hauser is routinely approached by search firms to consider other executive positions across the country. This is why we are especially pleased to report that Dr. Hauser recently accepted a new four-year contract with CMC, thus ensuring that the transformative progress she has led will continue into the foreseeable future.
The higher education landscape is changing dramatically and many colleges throughout the country are struggling to adapt. Not CMC. Resulting from Dr. Hauser’s inspired and creative leadership, our institution is modernizing its policies, changing its approaches and adjusting its modes of delivery to ensure that Colorado Mountain College remains highly relevant to our local communities and state, financially solvent, and focused on the needs of its students, its communities and its future.
None of this should suggest that running a college as exceptional as CMC is simple or routine. Indeed, a quirk in the state’s constitution significantly threatens CMC’s financial model. Nonetheless, we know that Dr. Hauser is the right person to lead our beloved institution through these financial headwinds. We stand with Dr. Hauser, her talented leadership team and a remarkable cadre of staff and faculty to guide our distinctive, innovative and determined college into its next 50 years.