By Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser
Earlier this week, we witnessed a historic act: For the first time since 1981, a new community has voted to join the Colorado Mountain College special taxing district, while simultaneously the existing CMC district has invited them in with open arms (nearly 80% voted yes)! On behalf of the CMC Board of Trustees and all our employees and students, we welcome residents of the Salida School District, which includes both Salida and Poncha Springs.
The last time this happened was over 35 years ago, when Steamboat Springs joined CMC in a similar fashion.
What does this mean for Salida-area residents? When earlier this year CMC conducted a feasibility study about the potential annexation, Salida made perfect sense.
The area has been in the college’s service area for decades, but as such Salida’s options were limited. High school students could take college-level courses at no cost to them, but the school district paid the higher tuition rate of $170 per credit hour, rather than the in-district $80 rate. The state, and the college’s accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, limited the number of courses that could be offered.
The Salida economy is similar to the rest of CMC’s region, so the college has deep experience preparing the workforce for what our mountain communities need: the outdoor recreation industry, health care, tourism and hospitality, snow sports and more. Employers who have been struggling to fill vacancies in Salida’s fast-growing economy can provide quality training for their current workers. They also have the option of hiring hometown employees with the skills and education needed for their businesses to thrive.
The only age group in Salida with negative growth is that of 18- to 20-year-olds, suggesting that high school graduates generally leave the community for college outside of the region due to the absence of local higher education opportunities. These students can now stay home to attend college – or they can enjoy any of the college’s 11 other campuses in mountain resort towns much like their own. They can even earn among the state’s most affordable associate degrees at one of CMC’s three residential campuses, in Steamboat Springs, Spring Valley near Glenwood Springs, or Leadville.
What does this mean for residents throughout the rest of the CMC district? When leaders in Salida reached out to the CMC Board of Trustees, it was clear that the college district had much to gain.
The Salida area has a lot in common with other CMC communities. It includes Monarch Mountain ski area and numerous outdoor outfitters that serve thousands of anglers and boaters who frequent the Arkansas River. It is a business and government center for the Arkansas River Valley and has been designated as a Certified Creative District by Colorado Creative Industries, a division of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade. (Four of the seven CCDs in the state are within CMC’s total nine-county service area: Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, Grand Lake and Carbondale.)
The demographics are favorable to supporting a local college campus. Salida’s birth rate is growing faster than the death rate, suggesting that the community is becoming younger and attracting younger professionals with children. As those children get older, they will be looking at their local college for postsecondary education.
The Hispanic immigrant population in Salida and Poncha Springs is growing steadily and significantly. The expected growth in this population indicates strong potential enrollment across programs.
And adults living within the Salida School District have more education than the state average, which mirrors other CMC communities. This provides a local pool for qualified and talented faculty and staff.
Thank you to voters in Salida and those across CMC’s vast geographic footprint for saying “yes” to the future of your local college. To the Salida School Board, volunteers who knocked on hundreds of doors, to local elected and public officials, and so many others who believed in something bold, you did it! Congratulations.
CMC’s “founding father” and 92-years-young David Delaplane wrote to me on election night expressing his genuine pride and noting the similarities between Salida’s annexation journey and the college’s founding by a similar process. Local residents voted yes on Nov. 2, 1965, creating a college to serve the central mountain region of Colorado. And, they just did it again on Nov. 5, 2019. History in the making.
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at President@ColoradoMtn.edu or @CMCPresident.