State, local leaders convene to discuss CNCC’s Craig campus
There was plenty of brain power inside Colorado Northwestern Community College’s library Thursday, Aug. 29 as officials from across the Centennial State gathered for a community leader discussion.
The discussion was organized, in part, by State Sen. Bob Rankin and Joe Garcia, a former Colorado lieutenant governor now turned Colorado Community College System’s chancellor.
“This is almost an historic meeting in the context of Craig and Northwestern Colorado,” Rankin said to a full CNCC library with at least 50 people in it.
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 in June.
Daniels and others want CNCC to take a more active role in economic development in Craig and Moffat County.
“We are here for the community,” said Ron Granger, president of CNCC, on Thursday. “We want to make things better as far as the economy. We know what we are facing here in Northwest Colorado, especially with our natural resources.”
Rollie Heath, vice chair of the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education, said he wants to know what kind of workers Craig’s economy will need in the future.
“From my standpoint and board’s standpoint is we’re here today to find out what direction you want to go and be the best possible partner in matching those needs,” Heath said.
Much of those needs Thursday centered around seven priorities as outlined by Craig Mayor Jarrod Ogden and Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck.
Those priorities were:
- Strengthen CNCC as a community asset utilized and valued by the community.
- Consider developing and funding a paleontology museum to showcase the only paleontology program of its kind in the country. This would seek to capitalize on tourism coming to Dinosaur National Monument.
- Regional workforce and transit, including the possible development and funding for a regional transit authority that helps keep workers mobile.
- Solar farm research and development.
- Outdoor recreation opportunities and CNCC programs that utilize Colorado’s great Northwest.
- A small business innovation center.
- Vocational training centers.
Beck also produced a “failure to launch” presentation that included several initiatives he feels CNCC has been dragging their feet on. Those initiatives included a drone program, an agricultural technology program, a Moffat County rodeo team, nursing program issues, a vocational program in conjunction with Tri-State Generation & Transmission, 3D printing technology at CNCC, aviation technology, and expanding degree options.
“We are asking the Craig campus to stand on its own two feet separate from the Rangely campus administration while still remaining part of the community college system,” Beck said.
Christine Scanlan, who moderated Thursday’s discussion, said she saw Beck’s PowerPoint slide on CNCC’s failures more as opportunities.
“I don’t think that’s a failure slide,” Scanlan said. “I think those are opportunities.”
Garcia took time Thursday to answer many questions and sought to address some issues presented to CNCC, but he warned his candor might be somewhat disappointing.
“Some of the remarks I’m going to start with will sound discouraging,” Garcia said.
Garcia took the time to lay out several reasons CNCC is operating the way it is, including the local college board’s decision to fund free tuition for eligible residents of Moffat County using more than $1 million in mill levy taxes collected locally.
“It reduces the amount of money available to add new programs,” Garcia said.
Garcia addressed the need to take in more than what’s going out.
“Colleges have to operate like a business,” Garcia said. “We have to generate more revenue than we spend.”
Garcia said CNCC has struggled lately attracting quality students who will likely succeed anywhere they go to school.
“The competition for bodies is intense,” Garcia said. “There are a declining number of high school graduates every year… high school graduates from Moffat County have declined by more than half. It peaked in 2004 at 186 graduates per year. It was down to 99 in 2017. Most of our community college students come from our high schools.”
After presenting data showing Craig’s CNCC gets more state money per student than other state community colleges in bigger cities, Garcia seemed to address the signs that dot Craig asking CNCC and the CCCS board “Are you listening?”
“There is an attempt by the board to recognize the needs here. The board isn’t failing to listen. Sometimes people think not listening and not doing what we say are the same things.”
“It’s our job to listen and then figure out what ideas will work,” Garcia said.
Joe M. Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, pointed out in his presentation a number of ways CNCC and local goverments could work together going forward, including being prepared for major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence that will require technical skills of almost every future worker, increasing public transportation for workers and students, having a regional view of the economy instead of each individual county, and the need to expand higher paying industries.
This may prove difficult, as Barela pointed out all of Moffat County is considered ‘Americana distressed,’ meaning Moffat County has among the lowest household income, the highest poverty rates and the lowest education attainment compared to others in Colorado.
Betsy Markey, executive director of the Colorado Office of Econoic Development and International Trade pointed out another way CNCC and government officials might work together to apply for grants that could expand advanced industries.
“Moffat County hasn’t taken advantage of any of our advance industry grants,” Markey said.
Following the hours-long meeting, Ron Granger said what he took from the meeting was a bright future.
“I think it’s just going to get better as we move forward,” Granger said.
Granger has confidence in Garcia.
“Joe Garcia really understands rural communities,” Granger said.
Moments after the meetings end, Sen. Rankin said he hopes the meeting helped affect the conversations people have about CNCC.
“I’ve been concerned these last couple of years that we need to shift the dialogue,” Rankin said. “…We have to have a bigger vision and I think we started that dialogue today.”
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