New college president to address how access to higher education transforms lives, communities

What would draw a high-powered, rising star – one who has built a career on enhancing educational access for people who might not otherwise have that opportunity – to serve the small towns on Colorado’s Western Slope?

As Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser explains, it’s because of the opportunity to help lead Colorado Mountain College toward becoming the premier and most innovative institution of its kind.

Hauser, the ninth and newest president of CMC, and the second woman in the job, will address her vision for the college and for student success as the inaugural speaker of the 2014 Roaring Fork Cultural Council speakers’ series in Carbondale March 10. She will also share her thoughts about how access to affordable, high-quality education can transform lives and elevate communities’ economic and social vitality.

“Our new strategic plan is driving us toward becoming the most inclusive, innovative, student-centered college in the country,” Hauser says. “We believe this vision will help us to elevate the economic, social, cultural and environmental vitality of the incredible communities we serve.”

Offering students opportunity to create vibrant local economies

Firsthand she has seen education transform the lives of people who had thought college was beyond their reach. Before joining CMC in December, she was a senior fellow for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and president and CEO of Kauffman Scholars. She has also served as vice president and an original senior officer of the Daniels Fund, and held governor’s appointments to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Reform.

“I have been familiar with Colorado Mountain College for many years, and became even more so during my time at the Daniels Fund,” she says. “As CMC was an early recipient of Daniels Opportunity Scholarship grants, I came to know the important role the college plays in Colorado higher education. CMC offers students a choice – really THE choice – to live, work, take classes, earn degrees, receive training and contribute to the economies of our mountain communities.”

In addition to her work with private foundations that empower students to go to college, she has been vice president for advancement and external relations at Metropolitan State University of Denver and executive director of its foundation. She has also taught at UCLA, the University of Denver and in Colorado State University’s executive MBA program.

Education for a changing world

Her experience on both sides of the equation – as educator and as matchmaker for students and donors – has meant she’s long pondered the benefits of, and the challenges facing, higher education.

“The world has changed,” she says. “What students need to know and be able to do is different in a global, knowledge-based economy, regardless of where they are from or plan to live. So, as a state and college, we must rethink how we serve and train students.”

One of the biggest challenges facing the state is called the “Colorado Paradox,” Hauser explains. Many well-educated business and community leaders have come here from elsewhere, but only one in five of the state’s own high school graduates go on to earn a college degree.

Colorado has benefited historically from an “import effect” of people who move to the state for its lifestyle and beauty, she notes. “They often bring high per-capita incomes, good health and college degree attainment with them. We do less well ‘growing our own’ educated citizenry, particularly from historically under-served populations. These same populations are an increasing share of the education and workforce pipeline, and it is our obligation and economic necessity to ensure the doors of opportunity and high-quality education, training and lifelong learning are open to all.”

Hauser takes her new job seriously, having already logged hundreds of hours and thousands of miles to listen to students, faculty, staff and community members throughout the college’s 12,000-square-mile service area. “CMC has the opportunity, potential and ingredients to become the premier and most innovative institution of its kind in the country,” she says. “Because of the college’s many diverse locations, employees and students can incubate and experiment with ideas and programming on a small scale. When successful, leading practices can permeate collegewide. As the college and its students are successful, communities and local economies thrive.”

The Roaring Fork Cultural Council speakers’ night will be at Thunder River Theatre in Carbondale at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 10. Note that tickets are only available at For further information or assistance please call 963-8200. The RFCC Speakers’ Nights are a Thunder River Theatre Company program event.