Through CMC, nearly $1 million in grants, community funds help high school students reach higher
By Debra Crawford
Last year, Gabriel Gonzalez of Rifle High School began his college career with a little extra financial support. He joined a number of graduating Colorado high school seniors, including Baylie Lawson of Summit High School in Frisco and Amber Finch of Steamboat Springs, as recipients of a $1,000 scholarship to attend Colorado Mountain College. Called the President’s Scholarship, it’s offered to every graduating senior in the college’s six-county district and other schools within its service area.
Gonzalez had always wanted to go to college so that he could better his life, he said. Lawson had a lifelong interest in becoming a nurse, and Finch wanted to study arts and sciences. With the President’s Scholarship providing funds, those goals are now closer.
“It has been extremely beneficial for me in that it saved me money,” Finch said recently, adding that it’s kept the pressure on for her to continue earning good grades.
How is the college able to offer this generous scholarship to 2,000 regional students, bringing in-district tuition to less than $1,000 for a full year?
By weaving together a tapestry of private, state and national grants, and the support of numerous community organizations and school districts, the college has raised nearly $1 million over the past two years in what’s called the Mountain Futures Fund. This innovative approach is opening the door to college for all students – including many who had not considered going to college.
The scholarship also incentivizes students to consider Colorado Mountain College as a high-quality, affordable option – whether they choose to attend their local campus or want to attend another of CMC’s 11 mountain locations. The scholarship requires that students attend full time, keep up their grades and apply for other sources of financial aid, including grants and scholarships. Combined, these requirements give students the greatest chance to finish college debt-free.
Preparing workforce of the future
Several facts drove the formation of Mountain Futures. Three-fourths of Colorado’s jobs in 2020 are expected to require some sort of post-secondary certificate or degree. “This means nearly every single one of the students who graduate from our local high schools will need a certificate or degree to successfully compete in our knowledge-based workforce and fully contribute to Colorado’s economy,” said Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser, president and CEO of the college.
At the same time, one-third of Colorado’s graduating high school seniors need academic help to be ready for college-level classes. Nationally, that number is as high as 60 percent. Colorado Mountain College administrators say that anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of all students who enter CMC are not college ready, depending on their socioeconomic background and other factors. Last year the college announced an ambitious goal for the communities it serves: to bring the need for remediation to zero.
“We need to work together with whatever partners we can, to help our local students be ready for the future,” said Hauser. “Fortunately, we have received overwhelming support and interest in our efforts. Our local, state and national partners agree with us that cultivating an educated population is our only option.”
The Mountain Futures Fund supports student scholarships like the President’s Scholarship, as well as the college’s initiative to reduce the need for remedial education for students graduating from high schools throughout its service area.
Under the umbrella of Mountain Futures, grants from El Pomar Foundation and the Morgridge Family Foundation are instrumental in providing key links from secondary to higher education by providing scholarships, training high school teachers to deliver concurrent enrollment courses in local high schools and covering the costs of students’ books and materials.
“We wanted to support the Mountain Futures Fund because it is transformative, bringing together school districts, the college and community partners to ensure that students can seamlessly move from high school into college,” said Carrie Morgridge, vice president of the Morgridge Family Foundation.
“Creative initiatives like this keep the student at the forefront, improving their readiness for higher education and for future success in the workplace,” said Dave Palenchar, a trustee of El Pomar Foundation. “CMC has brought together dozens of community, school district, philanthropic and state organizations around a common imperative, which is the kind of sustainable model we like to support in Colorado.”
“We are so grateful to both El Pomar and the Morgridge Family Foundation for their leadership in improving the education of and opportunities for students on the Western Slope,” said Hauser. “With funding from visionary foundations like these, we can continue to introduce creative, inclusive and innovative efforts to invest in our students and communities so that they thrive.”
Support from local organizations, counties, high schools helps cement state grants
The Mountain Futures Fund has also been heavily fortified by two state grant programs: the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative and one from the Department of Higher Education.
COSI is part of a statewide, $3.4 million student support and scholarship initiative that the Colorado legislature committed to in 2014.
In 2014-15, thanks to the college’s team of key community organizations and the endorsement of all 24 high schools in its six-county district, CMC received a $400,000 grant for two years.
This year, the college is working with a number of regional foundations to match $110,300 in COSI funding. In order to secure financial support, COSI grant recipients must also be endorsed by local county commissioners. (See box for more about regional community foundations.)
In addition, last year the college received $211,000 in a federal Title II grant, awarded by the Colorado Department of Higher Education, to embed college “remedial” courses into the curriculums of local high schools.
Thanks to the Mountain Futures Fund, students like Gabriel Gonzalez can afford to stay in college full-time, one of the factors shown to increase students’ success in earning a certificate or degree.
Gonzales encourages other high school students to think beyond their senior year. “Going to college is definitely worth the time,” he said. “College is teaching me things I didn’t know in high school, things like time management, being more responsible. And everybody’s so nice to you at CMC, it’s like one big family.”
Mountain Futures Fund supported by multiple sources
Colorado Mountain College has created a multi-source funding umbrella, the Mountain Futures Fund, which ensures that a college education can be within every student’s academic and financial reach. Underpinning the Mountain Futures Fund are numerous private, state and federal grants:
- Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative: Initiated by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to improve college readiness among high school students, COSI is administered through the Colorado Department of Higher Education. Colorado Mountain College received a two-year, $400,000 COSI grant to improve college readiness among high school students within the CMC district. This is the second-highest amount awarded to the 75 colleges, educational institutions and school districts that applied for funds.
- This year, COSI funds are being routed to local students through or in partnership with community foundations within the Colorado Mountain College footprint: Aspen Community Foundation, the Vail Valley Foundation’s Youth Foundation, the Leadville Race Series Legacy Foundation, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and the Colorado Mountain College Foundation.
- Title II, Part A grant: The college also secured a $211,000 federal grant to train high school teachers to help prepare their students to transition from high school to college.
- El Pomar Foundation: High school graduates from Garfield and Routt counties will be eligible for $150,000 in college scholarships.
- Morgridge Family Foundation: High school teachers will be trained to be Colorado Mountain College adjunct instructors qualified to deliver CMC courses in the high schools via a total pledge of $87,500. The donation will also help to cover the cost of books and materials for low-income high school students who are taking concurrent enrollment courses, and supporting faculty to redesign materials as needed.
For more information about Colorado Mountain College’s President’s Scholarship, go to coloradomountaincollege.net/presidents-scholarship.