This op-ed was published in the Glenwood Post Independent.
Recently, a national conversation has intensified about how an educated workforce is perhaps the most critical component of the “post-Great Recession” economy. This attention and refocusing among policymakers and business leaders is driven by an alarming fact: By 2020, nearly 75 percent of all jobs in Colorado will require formal education beyond high school. Colorado is a very well-educated state (many move here with their degrees), but we are nowhere near those numbers.
To get more students into and through college — prepared for the jobs of the future — the president recently proposed a plan to lower their costs to attend community college — to zero. In Tennessee, lottery proceeds support a similar initiative. In other states and cities, private funders underwrite the costs. Here in Colorado, our governor has introduced the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative. These are noteworthy efforts, but colleges themselves must also be accountable to create the conditions that result in affordable, accessible, high-quality education.
When Coloradans think about college, the conversation often turns to affordability, specifically tuition and fees. This is one of the most critical concerns to our taxpayers, and is an annual debate among college trustees and state officials. This debate is particularly intense in Colorado as the state — once a national leader — no longer funds higher education at levels seen in previous decades. While our policymakers are trying to find ways to increase investments in higher education, Colorado currently ranks 48th nationally. Consequently, decisions made by the leaders of colleges and universities and their governing boards are very consequential.
Considering this environment, it is significant that the Colorado Mountain College board of trustees has upheld its commitment to keeping CMC among the most affordable public colleges in the state. This is not easy work. Over the past year, our board has considered a longer-term strategy on tuition pricing to stabilize college revenues and enrollments, create predictable and simple tuition rates, increase financial aid and incentive programs and realign resources to help students more effectively accomplish their academic goals at minimal cost or incurred debt.
As a result of the board’s deliberations and recent actions, CMC’s in-district tuition rate will grow by 0 percent next year. Moreover, the college will not increase tuition for any students in its bachelor’s degree programs in nursing, business, sustainability studies and two additional bachelor’s degrees awaiting final accreditation: teacher preparation and applied sciences. We are committed to growing our own talented and educated workforce.
Currently CMC maintains different tuition rates for lower- and upper-division courses. Over time, we will look to establish one rate in each residency classification for all undergraduate students. Such a transition will enable us to more effectively share the responsibility for educating in-state and out-of-state students as well as increase financial aid for needy, non-traditional and underrepresented students. In effect, CMC will remain one of the most affordable public colleges in the state while investing in its key strategic priorities.
While optimizing affordability for our in-district students, the board also remains committed to students from throughout and beyond Colorado as well as veterans and their dependents. Over the coming months and years, the board will create new ways to strategically enroll, retain and graduate more students at CMC’s 11 campuses and learning locations throughout the beautiful Central Rockies.
Regardless of the current discussions taking place in Washington or elsewhere, CMC will continue to make the dream of college a reality by investing in strategies that enable all students to succeed in college, including expanded dual enrollment for high school students, improved lifelong learning options for adults and retirees and services that support those balancing work, family and school.
CMC’s pricing will not remain flat indefinitely; it will continue to adjust over the coming years as the board’s longer-term plan is implemented. However, the college will not waver in its commitment to the taxpayers in its service area and Colorado. CMC will remain exceptionally accessible, affordable, relevant and rigorous — honoring our vision to be “the most inclusive, innovative, and student-centered college in the nation.”
Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @CMCPresident.