By Mike McKibbin

ASPEN/GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A couple of recent Colorado Mountain College graduates have already jumped most students’ biggest post-college hurdle: They were already working full-time while taking classes and are now using what they learned to further their careers.

Nickolas O’Hara grew up in Florida and earned an associate degree at a community college in Tallahassee. He considered transferring to Florida State University but could not afford the high tuition and other costs. O’Hara followed some friends to Aspen on a ski trip, and they all ended up moving to the resort town. After working in the hospitality industry, O’Hara decided to enroll at CMC.

“It took me a while to graduate because I worked full-time,” he said.

O’Hara took a few classes per semester until his last semester, when he had a full schedule. “I really wanted to graduate this spring so I just went for it,” he said.

O’Hara, an Aspen resident, earned his Bachelor of Science in business administration this spring. Employed as a financial planner with Devlin Financial Services in Aspen, he said he “already has the job I want.” But now, his degree will allow him to take the certified financial planner exam.

O’Hara credited CMC’s affordable tuition and small class sizes with providing a better education than he could have received at a large university. He also praised Perry Ninger, dean of the college’s School of Business, with motivating him to graduate.

“His Intro to Finance class was a good foundation and I got a lot out of the course,” O’Hara said. “But he expected us to do more than others, too.”

More than 1,000 graduates received degrees and certificates from Colorado Mountain College May 2-6, at 10 different graduation ceremonies held throughout the CMC district. Graduates from Aspen to Glenwood Springs could choose to participate in ceremonies at the college’s Spring Valley campus.

Business owner benefits in real life

Matthew Simpson was born and raised in California and moved to Snowmass Village in 2003 and Glenwood Springs in 2015. He worked as a ski lift operator in Aspen and in the local hospitality industry, then earned a hospitality certificate through CMC. He earned his Bachelor of Science in business administration degree in December, so was listed in this week’s graduation program.

At the end of 2015 — before taking any business courses — Simpson opened Aspen RVs in Glenwood Springs, specializing in recreational vehicle rentals, custom builds and repair.“I felt comfortable with my skills and knowledge, but I found things like the marketing classes very helpful,” he said.

For example, Simpson said a group project used Aspen RVs as the subject company, so what he learned in class helped in real-life, hands-on situations as a business owner. Accounting courses helped, too, he said.

“A couple of the sustainability courses I took were good and I didn’t expect that,” Simpson said. “Like they say, it never hurts to get more education.”

And Simpson, 34, is doing just that, taking a couple of Spanish-language classes at CMC this spring, even after completing his degree.

“I’ll probably always be enrolled in something there,” he said.