GJ Sentinel: CMU, Chamber aim for 15,000 students

By Gary Harmon
Monday, June 19, 2017

The next step for Colorado Mesa University is to reach enrollment of 15,000 students, or about half again the 2016-17 number — an effort that will require 5,000 volunteers and partners, officials said Monday.

CMU President Tim Foster unveiled the campaign before the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon at the Grand Vista Hotel, reminding about 80 people that the university still has a long way to go to meet its charge of making a college education attainable for residents of 14 Western Slope counties.

At the same time, chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke noted that the university is a major economic driver for the Grand Valley and should be recognized — and promoted — as such.

The university brings in nearly $450 million annually into the local economy, the chamber noted.

“This is going to be a multi-pronged, multi-level effort” to boost enrollment at the university, which will pay off with a more stable and solid local economy, Schwenke said.

Among the ways of boosting consciousness about the university could be changing the name of North Avenue to University Boulevard — an idea championed by local resident Levi Lucero — and changing the signs along Interstate 70 to reflect the presence of the college.

Mesa County officials also have signaled that they would be willing to add to their new highway signs a recognition that the county is home to Colorado Mesa University.

While Mesa County might be home to a university, it lags behind the Western Slope in general in terms of education, Foster said.

Among Mesa County residents between the ages of 25 and 34, 25.2 percent boast bachelor’s or advanced degrees. More than a third of Coloradans in general — 37.5 percent — have attained bachelor’s or higher degrees, and for Western Slope counties in general, the number is 31.7 percent.

Attracting 5,000 additional students to CMU is made more difficult by greater competition than existed when he became president in 2004, Foster said.

Back then, there was a handful of public and private colleges and universities in Colorado.

Now there are 464 institutions of higher education in the state — everything from cosmetology schools to Bible colleges. And many of them are hoping to attract the same students that Colorado Mesa is hoping to bring in, Foster said.

“We are at our heart a liberal-arts college,” but have moved to provide more practical education, Foster said, pointing to graduate programs in nursing as well as degrees in engineering in concert with the University of Colorado, criminal justice and other disciplines.

The chamber is seeking members for a committee that will deal with student recruitment, community visibility, community engagement and government engagement.

CMU and the chamber have set up a website, http://www.cmu20000.com, and will soon establish a Facebook page for the effort.

Alex Chaffetz