Bob Rizzuto, Colorado Northwestern Community College chief administrative officer, was on the hot seat as the guest speaker at the Meeker Business in Action meeting Tuesday.
Rizzuto spoke at the request of MBA Chairman Tony Weiss.
Weiss said he shared his concerns with Rizzuto about how the closure of the CNCC Meeker Center was handled and that residents thought CNCC was simply writing off Meeker students.
"I found him very interested in our point of view and asked him to come share some facts and answer some questions," Weiss said.
Rizzuto spent a few minutes talking about his background in higher education and then jumped right into the reasoning behind the closing Meeker Center.
"It was a business decision based on costs, and unfortunately, the numbers didn't add up," he said. "We've kept our classroom, and have no plans to abandon the students in Meeker."
He assured MBA members the CNCC mission was still the same.
"To provide higher education to the citizens in the district, and that means the whole district and that includes Meeker," he said, "We just have to do more, more efficiently."
Meeker Center director Sandy Kloos also attended the early morning meeting. Kloos has served in the position for the past 13 years.
"The only thing that changed was my office address," she said "I still arranged for 98 classes offered in Meeker in the fall schedule."
Kloos apologized for the way the closure was handled and said she understood why area residents were upset.
"It is not easy to accept change after nearly 25 years," she said. "We should have handled the transition better."
Kloos also defended the administration decision.
"It was clearly a business move based on revenue," she said.
She said administrators were not around during the days when Meeker generated more than 50 full-time equivalency credits annually and said that perhaps they did not completely understand the public's connection. During the past three years, the center had generated about 11 FTE credits.
"They were faced with making some hard financial cuts, and none of them were easy," she said.
Bill Rucker, past director at Meeker Center, agreed with Kloos' historical presentation concerning the center.
He said he felt like the citizens of Meeker might support a mill levy for the college in the future if it was somehow dovetailed into the K-12 system. He added that it would take a great deal of time and sharing information to be successful.
"Education here is K-12," he said. "The public is certainly supportive of the dual enrollment program. They would have to be sold on a mill levy."
Discussion included a suggestion from Meeker business owner Wendy Kaiser, that perhaps looking into expanding the college district to include Meeker might be a viable option for the future.
"I just know it was better when the college had a presence," she said. "Most people feel like we totally lost."
The consensus was that tuition buy-down was something attractive to most Meeker residents. CNCC students in Moffat County and Rangely can go to school for nearly free through the tuition buy-down program.
"The Rangely and Craig districts both have that for the public. Classes here are cost prohibitive for most since (CNCC joined) the state system," Kloos said.
Sharon Day, Meeker town manager, said she thinks communication is the key.
"I know five people who are working on degrees over the Internet," she said. 'I doubt if the public knows what CNCC has to offer or what they can do."
Rizzuto told the group about the survey CNCC was conducting that would look at the district needs. He encouraged everyone to fill one out.
"We need to get a better sense of what business needs, and government needs, along with school districts," he said
He assured the MBA members that the college was working to find solutions and meet higher education needs of the region. He also committed to being active in the MBA
"I feel like we are a business in Meeker, and it is time to access our customers needs and give them the service they deserve," he said.
Meeker Business in Action is an organization made of business, government and community members who share ideas and help facilitate action in the community. For more information, call Tony Weiss at 878-0955.