Colorado Mountain College: K-12, employer training new focus

Sep 16, 2014

Colorado Mountain College is turning its focus to what kids are learning before they walk in the door. Right now more than half of incoming students are severely lacking in certain subjects, usually math and English. So now the community college… the largest such network in the state… is working on finding a way to improve what kids are learning in elementary, middle, and high school. It’s part of a larger effort to better serve mountain communities.

Carrie Hauser: “Thanks for joining us!”

It’s been a big nine months for new CMC President, Carrie Hauser. She’s visited all eleven campuses… including Aspen, Rifle, and points in between. Hauser says CMC is still hammering out the exact details on how it will help students who are already behind.

“And it may look a little bit different in each of our districts. You know we’re working with the superintendents to say how is this going to work for you. But in all likelihood we can do a lot of this in the high school in the senior year.”

Largely by increasing the number kids taking CMC classes while they’re still in high school. The institution is also looking to partner with nonprofits, like the Aspen Community Foundation, to pinpoint weak areas in local education… even in preschool or third grade. At a meeting in Aspen yesterday, Hauser said she’s not frustrated at whether school districts are dropping the ball.

“Yeah, it’s not necessarily new, and if you also look at the data that we showed today, the demographics in the schools are changing.”

Hauser points to a dramatic boom in Latino and Hispanic kids, statewide as well as in mountain communities.

“We have a lot of kids that they’re first generation, their families are first generation, whether it’s in our country or in our communities, so you know what students need and how they learn, and how we actually deliver that, I have no judgement about that, it’s just how do we think differently about how we get students ready.”

And a persistent language gap between English and Spanish isn’t solely to blame. Incoming CMC freshman often are behind with math... because they simply chose not to take those classes their junior and senior year of high school.

Hauser says CMC wants to correct all of these pitfalls because college degrees are essential to making a living in Colorado.. since they’re required for 75% of the jobs here. If all goes smoothly, the institution will send an automatic acceptance letter to all high school graduates within its district… to help bring in those students intimidated or otherwise filtered out by the admissions process.

There’s another element to how CMC is aiming to better educate locals. Matt Gianneschi, CMC’s Chief Operating Officer, told this story about the Climax Mine, near Leadville.

 “They approached us, and said we have a need. It is hard for them to recruit industrial electricians, it’s a very specialized program, that requires an apprenticeship with equipment that is unique in the world, no other place, no other mine in the world has it. And they said, can you help us? And we said well, of course we can help. Our electrician’s program is in Rifle.”

So, the mine is now hiring CMC students to apprentice in-house… and they meet electrician instructors in Breckenridge.

President Hauser says there’s a similar opportunity with Aspen Skiing Company. She and other CMC representatives met recently with Ski Co.

“So they’re saying to us, you know we need things like diesel mechanics, or you know here in Aspen, culinary, resort management, you know tourism, all the things that are essentially the fabric of our community.”

And while CMC’s program for those skills is in Leadville, now the school will try harder to bring those classes to residents in the Aspen area.

CMC officials will be holding similar talks at other campuses in the next week and a half... and the community college network is already making some changes this fall.

In some ways it’s well positioned to take on major improvements.  While many higher education institutions are looking for new funding in the coming years, CMC derives a significant portion of its bottom line from property taxes. Barring another recession, those may at least stay steady, in the coming years.