‘Future of Craig’ meeting seeks change at Colorado Northwestern Community College
Craig residents and civic leaders are challenging the Colorado Northwestern Community College and the Colorado Community College System state board to step up their involvement in the local economy.
Memorial Regional Health CEO and Moffat County Affiliated Junior College Board Member Andy Daniels presented an 18-minute plea for change at CNCC’s Craig campus during a “Future of Craig” meeting held Wednesday evening at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion. At least 50 people were in attendance.
“Change is never spontaneous,” Daniels said. “You have to start somewhere. It needs a worthwhile goal and I certainly think the economic interest of our community is a worthwhile goal.”
In response to community criticism that the board isn’t doing enough, Daniel’s described a board with limited powers.
“We can get mad,” he said. “We can jump up and down, but in reality there are only five things that the board of control is allowed to do with the funds that are being provided by the taxpayers in Moffat County.”
The MCAJC board can defray tuition costs for local residents, he said, provide supplemental funding for operating costs of current or future college programs, erect facilities, provide capital funding for technology enhancements, and provide operational funding for facilities owned by the Moffat County Affiliated Junior College District.
Daniels critiqued the CCCS state board and CNCC Craig administration for not driving the college to be the economic stimulus it was once hoped to be.
He said the campus needs student housing, a vibrant athletic program and a vision with measurable aggressive goals outlined for the college’s future.
In October, he said the board’s student housing proposal for a $10 million 50-bed housing complex, equipped with a cafeteria and common area, was rejected at the state level. A counter-proposal to buy the Valley Vista Inn to serve as a student housing solution was rejected by the MCAJC board.
“Our feeling truly is that the growth we have seen in terms of the FTE (full-time equivalent student headcount) is largely due to the actions of the Board of Control and not necessarily because of the leadership at CNCC,” he said. “That’s how we feel.”
In light of community suggestions, Daniels outlined reasons why “breaking away” from CNCC in lieu of partnerships with Colorado Mesa University or Colorado Mountain College is not the best idea.
Such a move, he said, would require many steps: a legislative change, a vote to change the existing mill tax levy; the MCAJC board would have to rework the bonds the entity took out to pay for the auto shop and other additions at the Craig campus; and lastly, they would need to find a willing partner.
Daniels said the concerns “are very valid and frustrating.”
“But the reality is we do not seem to have a willing partner in the community for economic development in the college,” he said.
Daniels proposed a targeted media campaign, coupled with community pressure at the state and local levels. He presented a large printout of a letter asking for Joe Garcia, CCCS president and system chancellor, to visit Craig and present a plan for change within 90 days, and encouraged audience members to sign it.
“An open message to CNCC and CCCS leadership from Moffat County Colorado,” he said. “As business, education and government leaders, and on behalf of the citizens of Moffat County, we propose not just changes to operations of CNCC but even more important to restore trust between the citizens of Moffat County and CNCC and CCCS leadership. … We believe that the development and expansion of CNCC Craig is a key element in our longterm economic viability; that CNCC and CCCS must take an aggressive lead in the development of the CNCC Craig campus; that senior leadership at CNCC must be present, active and engaged in this community, leading change with specific measurable and time specific goals; that senior leadership’s priority goal mandated by CCCS must be leading economic development at CNCC Craig campus; that CNCC must take the lead on supporting student housing on campus, the development of athletics on campus and aggressively implementing programs that will grow CNCC Craig into the premier location for students seeking degrees and certifications in allied health, technology, paleontology and art; that CCCS must take immediate and swift changes in the operations at CNCC to accomplish these community goals. They are in fact a community college. We invite Joe Garcia as CCCS president and system chancellor and the CCCS board to engage with this community and to commit, that within 90 days to deliver a public plan with specific measurable and timely goals to this community in support of growth, economic development and positive change. We pledge our names in this oath and message to CNCC and CCCS leadership in earnest hope for our future.”
After his speech, Daniels took questions and comments from the audience. Attendees questioned whether Colorado Mesa University or Colorado Mountain College would be a better fit than CNCC; whether the community should contact Governor Jared Polis due to his previous background on the Colorado State Board of Education; and how to increase community engagement among younger residents and the community at large.
City Councilor Andrea Camp and former state appointed CNCC advisory council member Dave Fleming voiced their support for aggressive improvements at CNCC’s Craig campus.
“From my experience one of the top priorities for change is a sense of urgency,” Frank Moe said. “There is a sense of urgency from the hotel owners that we don’t have years for change to happen in the economy. We are talking things need to happen now.”
Moe also referenced the book “13 Ways to Kill Your Community,” while resident Michael Lausin highlighted an underlying issue that sparked laughter from the audience.
“Does this community really want to change?” Lausin asked. “Very seriously, does this community want to change? Mr. Moe, he brought up 13 ways to kill your community. We do 11 of them, or is it 12?”
Lausin advocated for Craig to look for ways to diversify the economy away from it’s reliance on the energy sector.
“Things are going to change on that hill, jobs are going to go away, and if we don’t diversify what we’re doing people are going to be moving out,” he said.
Addressing a comment about the youth’s lack of community involvement, Lidia Mendoza, with her 4-month-old daughter in tow, added her voice to the conversation.
“As you said, you need someone from the younger generation to be here, well we’re here and we’re not any of your kids,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza motioned to a friend in the audience.
“She’s 21 and I’m 22. We’re all homeowners here, we have kids and we want to make it better,” she said. “We went to CNCC and it was — it needs to get better. We don’t care about Rangely, we’re not living in Rangely. Most of our programs need to be here because we need it here, right?”
Mendoza received a loud round of applause. She’s currently studying to become a nurse through an online program at Colorado Mesa University, a program CNCC Craig Vice President of Student Services John Anderson said was proposed to be held at CNCC.
“That was the hospital’s decision, we offered exactly the same classes on the ground here, and they decided to send those students out of our community and our county,” Anderson said. “That was probably $50,000 (in lost funding from the hospital) and we lost out $50,000 from the state. I have kids who come into my office crying because of that decision.”
Anderson added he would have liked the community to have had more notice in advance of the meeting, but, overall, he was supportive of Daniels’ push for greater accountability.
“This is an excellent meeting,” he said. “It’s a good start to get the community together. Everything the letter up there states — we’re doing everything on that letter. If they want us to present it to the community, my door is already open.”
“We’ve already put a plan in place to grow our community education, our education programs, we just grew our new nursing student cohort from 25 to 40, we hired two new nursing staff members because of that, we hired an extra full-time science faculty member because of that, we hired an extra humanities and arts teacher just this year.”
Anderson said CNCC Craig will have men’s and women’s soccer teams this year for the community to support, with talks of a possible cross country running team in the works. Overall, Anderson remained optimistic about CNCC Craig’s future.
“The board is doing a wonderful job,” he said. “We’re the only community college that has a board like this that gives us extra funding to do those things. We’re incredibly grateful for the support. I think this (meeting) is a great first start.”
The next public Moffat County Affiliated Junior College District Board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, June 17 at CNCC in conference room 255.