Guest commentary: Colorado Mountain College taking the long view — for Aspen
Aspen is exceptional — a place of majestic beauty, inspired creativity, extraordinary foresight, and demonstrated generosity. However, even with world-class services and resort amenities, and high-quality health care, schools and public transportation, Aspen lacks several key components that make a community self-sustaining, including abundant early childhood education, ample housing to meet its needs and a fully realized college that trains and feeds a talent pipeline to fuel a resilient workforce. The moment is now to open new doors of opportunity for our leaders of tomorrow.
In 2017, just prior to Walter Isaacson’s retirement as CEO of the Aspen Institute, The Aspen Times asked him if a particular subject captured his interest. His response:
“I do believe strongly that what Aspen needs is expanded presence of Colorado Mountain College, because any great community needs a great center of education and job training. … And I think if they expand the campus they have across from the (Aspen-Pitkin County) airport, it’s a way to bring diverse, younger people into town without overwhelming what the town can handle. Having a steady stream of young, eager people with different interests can help create an innovative, entrepreneurial economy in the whole area. … I think that would be the next big thing I would hope for Aspen.”
Your local college of 54 years also hopes to deliver what Mr. Isaacson described and what another Walter (Paepcke) envisioned decades ago.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are central to CMC’s core values as an open-access institution. Whether you are a high school student taking concurrent enrollment classes, starting or finishing your associate or bachelor’s degree, charting a new career or hobby — everyone is welcome.
However, this commitment is difficult to fulfill in Aspen. The greatest barrier to CMC students isn’t tuition; it is the high cost of housing. We are not alone in this challenge, but uniquely well-positioned to address it.
The CMC trustees recently voted to prioritize our Aspen Campus amid heavy internal competition for capital investments across an 11-campus system that serves nearly 20,000 students annually. The vision includes enhanced academic programming, community facilities, infrastructure and transit improvements, and student and faculty housing. Also inherent are programmatic and housing partnerships with local nonprofits and businesses, designed to support a thriving economy for the region.
CMC’s campuses are small, personal and safe. Four currently have some form of housing. Students often choose us for the privilege to live, work and learn in our mountain towns. Woven into the fabric of our region, CMC students intern for various organizations, apprentice with the National Forest Service, provide technical support at the Aspen Ideas and 5Point Film festivals, and become teachers, nurses and EMTs. Notably, CMC alumni include 26 of the 28 members of the Aspen Police Department, 22 of the 24 deputies in the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Aspen’s fire and police chiefs.
Steve Skadron, who recently completed a third and final term as Aspen’s mayor, starts Monday as vice president of CMC’s Aspen Campus and Carbondale’s Lappala Center. A longtime local resident with close ties to the college as a former marketing consultant and Isaacson School instructor, Steve understands the region, having also served on Aspen’s Planning & Zoning Commission and the RFTA Board of Directors. He joins a talented group of campus leaders who are innovative, astute in complex organizational dynamics, and relationship-builders — each working closely with a cadre of academic deans and faculty to align offerings with community priorities.
Though CMC is only one voice in a larger conversation, our failure to responsibly provide relevant programs and adequate facilities in an otherwise out-of-reach location would run counter to our mission. Instead, we stand ready to contribute to thoughtful and collaborative solutions to alleviate disparities that lie between Aspen’s venerable ideals and its long-term economic viability and resilience.
We welcome all to be part of a long view and exciting next chapter for CMC in Aspen.
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at email@example.com or @CMCPresident.