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SB10-101: CMC’s Bid to Offer Four-Year Degrees Moves One Step Closer

By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY

The multi-campus Colorado Mountain College system–a mainstay of higher education in Colorado’s high country–would be allowed for the first time to offer four-year, bachelor’s degrees under a bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.

Senate Bill 101 picked up all but one vote in the Senate Education Committee despite push-back from the Colorado Department of Higher Education, whose director told committee members he fears the move could undermine his agency’s pending strategic plan.

“We’ve got a system of higher education, and what that means is that we’ve got to go with a system of system-wide planning, and CMC is going at it alone,” said Rico Munn, executive director of the department.

Munn said that a strategic plan is still being developed that would look at the entire state system, CMC included.

Colorado Mountain College, with a network of campuses across the mountains that offer two-year associate’s degrees, wants to expand programs to offer four-year, baccalaureate degrees that are more innovative and responsive to community needs. The school says its aim is to create a niche market that draws students interested in specialized degrees such as resort management, ski and snowboard management, and restaurant management.

“This would serve rural areas and non-traditional students who want to earn a four-year degree but for various reasons do not have the opportunity to leave the community to go to another school,” said CMC President Stan Jensen.

Jensen said that geographic and economic restraints prevent students who have families and a spouse who live and work in the community from continuing their education and who, given the opportunity, would stay and finish their schooling, adding value to the community after they graduate.

Munn said the legislature should wait until the strategic plan is in place before allowing the four-year degrees.

“When you have limited and declining resources, you make a plan and you make changes according to that plan. If you go outside the plan you foreclose other opportunities,” Munn said.

Jensen countered that waiting could actually jeopardize opportunities.

“If we don’t do it, then private institutions will come in and do it, and they will not serve us as well in terms of statewide goals,” Jensen said.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne–a former student of CMC–says the proposal is a win-win for everyone and that now is the time for such innovation in higher-ed.

“We can hit the ground running to provide educational opportunities to those who live in those communities at no added cost to the state,” Gibbs said. “When we are making major cuts in higher-ed, K-12, and health and human services, this could be the one bright spot for education in Colorado.

“We have the students and everything else in place. All we need is the authority from the state of Colorado,” said Gibbs, adding that it’s important to look at what statewide needs are. “Schools evolve, needs evolve, and what this bill allows is flexibility to do so.”

The bill is now headed for the Senate floor for debate.

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