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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs into law HB19-1153, which authorizes Colorado Mountain College to expand the number of bachelor’s degree it offers. From left, CMC Trustees Patty Theobald and Pat Chlouber, bill co-sponsors Rep. Jim Wilson and Rep. Julie McCluskie, Summit County residents Flor Valdez Cuz (an alumna) and Stephanie Beste (a current student), and bill co-sponsor Sen. Kerry Donovan. (Not shown is the bill’s fourth co-sponsor, Sen. Bob Rankin.)

On Friday, April 5, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 19-1153, which authorizes Colorado Mountain College to expand the number of bachelor’s degree programs it offers.

The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously. HB19-1153 was sponsored by a bipartisan mountain delegation, including Rep. Julie McCluskie, Rep. Jim Wilson, Sen. Kerry Donovan and Sen. Bob Rankin.

‘Keep them here’

Though all sponsors of the bill strongly supported the goal of authorizing CMC to award more bachelor’s degrees, the most compelling testimony in the Senate hearing came from two Summit County residents: current student Stephanie Beste and recent graduate Flor Cruz Valdez.

Beste, a nontraditional student and financial aid advisor at CMC, is close to completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She started out two decades ago by getting her GED at CMC, spending long hours of commuting to Denver for a dental certificate, and then earning two associate degrees at CMC. In her testimony to the House and Senate Education committees, she said, “I ask you to think about [people living in] our rural communities. Help them stay without the complete relocation of their families. Keep them here to receive their bachelor’s. Help us grow the people around us.”

Valdez described herself as the first in her family to complete college, earning a bachelor’s of business administration from CMC, where she now works as an academic advisor. Shortly after starting classes at the college she lost her mother to cancer.

“Colorado Mountain College gave me the opportunity to be part of a community when I had nothing else left,” Valdez said in her powerful comments to legislators. “As an advisor myself now, I see a lot of CMC students come back to pursue that dream that I once had. I see them . . . wanting to be part of a community, wanting to better themselves and to learn and grow. So today I ask of you to please think of students like me, and many other students who have their own stories.”

Degrees meeting community need

In 2010, after 40 years of providing associate degrees and certificates, Colorado Mountain College responded to ongoing requests from local residents and employers and added much-needed four-year degrees.

The change increased accessibility to higher education in rural and mountain resort communities, resulting in greater numbers of college graduates to support their local economies.

At that time, after receiving authorization from the state and approval from the college’s accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, CMC launched five bachelor’s degree programs in nursing, elementary education, business administration, sustainability studies, and leadership and management.

With this new, expanded authorization in place, CMC plans to be selective and thoughtful about offering new degree programs, though college leaders are eyeing opportunities to support employers in high-growth health care fields, local government and secondary (middle and high school) education.

“Based on the lessons we learned in offering those first five degrees, we are being asked again by local residents, employers and taxpayers to broaden our degree offerings to meet workforce demands,” said CMC President Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser. “Doing so will also contribute to Colorado’s higher education master plan and help to sustain the state’s dynamic and rapidly changing economy.”