Roughly a year ago, the first reports of a COVID-19 vaccine were emerging. Shortly thereafter and across our mountain region, early doses were being administered in area hospitals, pharmacies and clinics, often by Colorado Mountain College (CMC) nursing graduates. A sense that the worst was behind us characterized the final weeks of 2020.
As we know, 2021 has now come and (nearly) gone without the “return to normal” we had eagerly anticipated. Even so, all of us at CMC have reflected deeply, adapted and evolved in order to support our students and return on the investments our beloved mountain communities make in us. With CMC’s fall semester coming to a close, it’s an opportunity to share some highlights from that journey, and what has made it possible.
For instance, despite the seemingly endless twists and turns of an ever-evolving public health crisis, CMC graduated one of its largest classes ever in May. Over the summer, thinking the other side of the pandemic was in reach and given extremely high voluntary vaccination rates among employees, we planned for the fall term and welcomed students back to a fully “open” environment.
However, as August approached, we saw worrying signs that conditions were not as promising as projected. Enrollments were unpredictable and weaker than historical patterns, suggesting that students were still hesitant about investing in the future. Employees reported extreme difficulty securing affordable housing and child care, further destabilizing the region’s full-time workforce. And an even more virulent strain of the virus gained a foothold just as classes began.
Consequently, CMC pivoted (again). Our talented team of faculty and staff leaned into the headwinds and successfully launched another semester. Our intrepid students were right there with us. Together, we masked up (again) and hunkered down (again).
While the pandemic pushed some colleges and universities across the country to close or merge, CMC’s unique localized funding model, operational structure and personalized approach allowed the college to withstand extreme fiscal pressures. In fact, we were able to invest even more deeply in our students and build programs that support our region’s greatest workforce needs.
We took advantage of historically low interest rates and launched a major multi-community investment in student housing, a win-win given our students often have jobs with local employers. Community members will see construction of these new on-campus apartment units begin soon at four campuses where we have available land (Steamboat Springs, Vail Valley, Breckenridge and Spring Valley near Glenwood Springs).
We also invested over $1 million to create a network of inter-campus digital classrooms, equipping 36 of them at a dozen CMC locations in seven different counties. Partnering with local school districts, we secured one of the largest education grants in the state, allowing us to install another 28 “smart” classrooms in area high schools. By linking them to CMC’s network of classrooms, we’re expanding concurrent enrollment access (and access to valuable college credits) for high school students across a wide swath of Colorado’s Western Slope.
Nursing faculty modified their classes to add simulations, resulting in several major philanthropic gifts and the construction of three new high-fidelity nursing labs in Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs and Breckenridge that will enable nearly twice as many nursing students to complete their clinical hours more efficiently and affordably.
Finally, CMC is now officially recognized as both a Dual Mission Institution, reflecting our blend of certificate, associate and bachelor’s degree offerings, as well as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, resulting from our deliberate efforts to grow enrollment, retention and graduation rates of Latinx students. This latter designation opens up new federal funding opportunities that benefit all students across the college.
Clearly, it takes more than a pandemic to stop CMC, and these noteworthy successes didn’t happen by accident. They are the result of stable financial resources and generous philanthropic support; of the dedicated work of skilled professionals and a deep appreciation for the special towns and region we all call home.
With the benefit of hindsight and after enduring nearly two years in the grip of a global pandemic, it is natural to be a bit more guarded about what 2022 will bring. However, one thing is certain: The team at CMC — after six consecutive volatile semesters — can handle whatever the year ahead has in store. Our students and communities are worth it.
Carrie Besnette Hauser, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CMCPresident.