Twenty-year-old Molly Morse lined up Wednesday with a handful of other students to register for classes that start next week at Craig's Northwestern Colorado Community College (CNCC).
Looking ahead to a full course load in spring term, Morse is just one example of the increasing numbers of students taking advantage of offerings at the college.
"I wanted to get some basics out of the way," said the Moffat County High School graduate. "I've been to Colorado State University, but it's much better to get some of the hard classes out of the way here."
Morse's reasoning -- to work toward earning her bachelor's degree by first taking advantage of discounted rates at CNCC Craig's campus -- is catching on with more students each year. Residents of Moffat County can attend classes for free, after covering the cost of books and other fees. Student scholarships are available through a voter-approved mill levy which sunsets in 2008.
But CNCC officials are hoping that a more than 60 percent increase in enrollment over the last four years will help persuade state education planners to push a local capital project campaign.
Last spring, CNCC officials outlined their hopes of creating an all-encompassing campus in its facilities master plan. The goal is to create a larger campus at the already purchased 100 acres north of the current Bell Tower Building off Colorado Highway 13. Project costs are estimated between $12 million to $15 million dollars. The Moffat County Affiliated Junior District Board of Control has already reserved about $2 million for construction, said CNCC Vice President Dean Hollenbeck.
"If we had more space we'd have even more numbers of students," he said. "We're already out of space. It's a good problem, but it's a problem."
According to the college master plan designed by Paulien & Associates, Inc., dated March 2003, the Craig campus needs more space to accommodate its future student enrollment projections. The plan identifies a need for almost 58,000 additional square feet to meet a projected 164 percent increase in enrollment from 2000 to 2007.
Currently, classes are held at the Bell Tower site and spread among other buildings in town. For instance, some physical education classes are held at the Center of Craig, nursing classes are taught out of the Moffat County School District Administration building and the cosmetology program operates out of small business mall off Industrial Avenue on the south edge of town.
Combining all the current programs under one roof -- and the room to add more -- would be ideal, Hollenbeck said.
"Ten percent of our population is already attending classes," he said. "If we continue at that rate it reflects a significant growth pattern."
Whether the college will get its wish, and when, depends in large part on how the capital improvement effort is funded. Options include having the state issue bonds with the help of the state education board, although capital projects have been on hold with the recent state budget crunch.
The Craig college could also take the issue to the voters, but that scenario may only be considered if all options are exhausted, Hollenbeck said.
Some CNCC officials plan to meet with the state Community Colleges of Colorado Board in February to seek more advice.
While a college's need to expand is taken into account for helping fund college capital improvement projects, it may be too soon to tell what kinds of school funding will be handed down from the current legislative session, said spokesman Briggs Gamblin of Community Colleges of Colorado.
"Needs will be a factor, but the board can approach it from any direction," he said. "It wouldn't be helpful (to CNCC) to speculate any further."
With an upswing in the economy there's a philosophical debate in the legislature whether to reinstate college programs that were axed with last year's budget shortfalls, focus on new infrastructure projects or do a little of both, Gamblin said.
"There's a wide range of viewpoints," he said. "We have to see how they play out."
As CNCC plays the waiting game, students continue to enroll and new programs are born, many from student requests.
This year marks the second for a successful nursing program -- which held many on a list to be one of the 36 students allowed in a year.
The college is introducing an emergency medical services course and plans to offer students opportunities to earn additional early childhood degrees.
Student Bea Smith is returning for spring term from an on-again, off-again five-year career as a student. Enrolling for a full-time status of 12 credits, Smith is another statistic that makes up the growing number of CNCC students.
In 2000, the school reported 217 full-time equivalent students compared to an estimated enrollment of 351 this spring. While more students are enrolling for the first time, other part-time students are taking the jump to full-time status.
"I want to go on to get my bachelor's degree so now I'm taking some of the more serious stuff here," Smith said.
As she pushes toward a dream of being a history teacher, Smith signed up for some mandatory classes Wednesday like algebra and English composition.
"A lot of people downplay Craig for being so isolated, but you can use that to your advantage," she said.
While younger student Molly Morse appreciated the small class sizes, she hedged away from enrolling in classes that were held at her former high school and where'd she'd be in the company of high school students earning dual enrollment credits.
Though Morse jumpstarted her college career earning 26 credits while in high school, the thought of enrolling in a class with other high school students was a little weird.
"It would definitely make life easier if they had a new campus," she said. "It would bring a lot more students to Craig. I think Craig needs to grow,"
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com.