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How a CNCC program is made

Colorado Northwestern Community College's Craig campus.
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

What does it take for Craig’s local community college to add a new program of study?

It’s not a simple process, but it’s one that the college is regularly considering.

Keith Peterson, vice president of instruction at Colorado Northwestern Community, said that there’s no “magic way” that a program starts, and each potential program must go through an internal and external approval process.



With programs that provide credits or degrees, they must meet certain criteria in order for CNCC to decide whether an idea is viable or not for it to move on in the internal process. First, there must be a need for the program in the community that it serves, whether that be the Craig campus, the Rangely campus or both.

“We are geared to serve the communities that we exist in,” Peterson said. “So astrophysics would be a neat degree program, but there’s not much need for it in northwest Colorado. We always look at need first. In fact, as we go through the external degree approval process, that question is on just about every step of the way, which is, ‘Have you done labor market data research? Is this an employable credential in the area that you live? Is there community support for it?’ There are a lot of those things that will ultimately need to get checked off.”



Next, CNCC administrators ask themselves if there is an opportunity to take advantage of a new program. Peterson said that can mean a multitude of things, including if there’s funding or other resource opportunities that can help support the program. Finally, Peterson said that they get to what is arguably the most important question: Is there a desire for the program?

“The big (concern for a program) is usually if it’s underperforming enrollment-wise, which kind of sets off a domino effect for those other metrics,” Peterson said. “Like, if it doesn’t have a lot of enrollment, it probably is expensive to operate. It’s not got a lot of revenue coming in. People don’t identify with it.”

This year, CNCC unveiled one of its newest programs, cybersecurity. Funded by a grant from the Colorado Department of Law, that program went through the same vetting process as any other. Once it passes the three preliminary questions in the internal process, Peterson said programs like cybersecurity are then moved to the external process, which can become cumbersome.

“You can’t have a program of study without having curriculum, syllabus, designs, core sequences and a structure for an actual design of a degree program, which we would need to go out and model after, usually, someplace that’s already doing a similar program successfully,” Peterson said.

Those curriculum documents go to the Academic Council, a CNCC group — which includes Peterson — that features academic deans, student services leadership, the Vice President of Student Services and financial aid administrators. The council must approve the plan before it can be sent out of CNCC’s hands.

“There’s a process by which we submit to the Colorado Community College System for approval of a new credential. That takes a fair amount of time to go through that process,” Peterson said. “Once it gets through the Colorado Community College System process, it’s got to be approved by CDHE, the Colorado Department of Higher Education. That is an approval process that takes a little while. Once all of the state approvals are (finished), it has to go to the Higher Learning Commission, which is the accrediting agency that gives us the legal authority to offer college degrees.”

After that office approves, the federal financial aid office reviews whether or not that program qualifies for financial aid. Once that happens, the process is pretty much complete, Peterson said.

“If you kind of got all of your ducks in a row, you might be able to get through the external process in a year,” he said. “It may take as long as two years to get through that external process for degree approval, but usually it falls within about a year, year and a half range.”

Peterson said ideas for various programs have come from several different avenues, including from academic deans, faculty advisory boards and from community engagement events. The latter was the case for cybersecurity, which originally came up at a town hall back in 2019. Peterson said this kind of communication among various groups is crucial to maintaining successful programs.

To Peterson, it does no good for anyone to have programs that nobody wants.

“We rely heavily upon the people that we serve to kind of be a barometer for what it is that we need,” he said. “We also watch what’s going on in the world, right? There’s no doubt we’re in an economic transition right now in northwest Colorado. As we move from coal dependent communities into potentially other opportunities, we maintain a relationship with local government, with (Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado), and the Just Transition Office to try to get advice on what are the kinds of industries we’re looking at to attract into our space.”

Peterson added that around once a year at the beginning of the school year, formal conversations about new programs happen among deans and other administrators, but throughout the year, ideas and potential new programs come up all the time.


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