History in Focus: To build a college
History in Focus
In numerous conversations over the years I’ve been told that Craig somehow missed out on landing the Rangely CNCC campus for itself. Intrigued to discover if this was true or just a distorted memory, I started digging into the newspaper archives at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. The story of this far-reaching and consequential episode involves geography, money, and ambition.
In 1955 the state legislature passed House Resolution No. 8 emphasizing the need for higher education in northwestern Colorado. In response, a far-flung junior college district was proposed comprising Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Jackson, and Grand counties. Representatives from each county formed a steering committee to study and designate a location for the new campus (Herald Times, 10/12/2012).
Over the next three years, the committee met in towns across the proposed district. Surveys gauged the financial ability and citizen support of each community. Craig and Steamboat Springs offered building sites at no cost in hopes of attracting the college. Rangely, due to huge royalties from gas and oil production, offered to build the whole campus at no cost to the other counties (Craig Empire Courier, 4/10/57). The committee remained deadlocked.
In late 1958, a compromise emerged to establish a technical college at Rangely and an academic campus on the eastern side of the vast district, presumably Steamboat Springs. In opposition to this idea, the representatives from Moffat County got a motion approved for an unbiased analysis and review of the proposed sites for the college. (Craig Empire Courier, 12/18/58)
In March of 1959, Dr. S.V. Martorana of the U.S. Office of Education toured the area for four days and determined travel and population considerations should place the first campus near or in Hayden (Craig Empire Courier, 3/12/59).
Realizing its geographic handicap, Rangely had already entered into negotiations with the Mesa Junior College District by late 1958. In April of 1959, the citizens of Rangely enthusiastically voted 298 to 9 to pass a 3 million dollar bond to build a new junior high and college campus, along with annexation to the Mesa College District. Thus, Rangely and its $71 million oil and gas valuation — larger than the other four counties combined — abruptly ditched the Northwest Colorado district (Herald Times, 10/12/2012).
The remaining four counties still met the state’s minimum requirements for population and assessed valuation, but momentum was faltering. In a Craig Empire Courier report, Moffat County member of the steering committee Mrs. C.O. Miller asked, “Does this area have the desire to support a junior college? Psychologically, morally, theoretically, practically?” (4/28/60)
Little or no interest was demonstrated in Grand County, even when meetings were held in Kremmling. Jackson County was already building a new school and hospital. Steamboat and Hayden seemed ready to approve the new district, but South Routt was uninterested. In Craig, survey results showed a lukewarm 49.4% supported the new district (Steamboat Pilot, 2/9/61).
A Craig Empire Courier editorial written by editor Chuck Stoddard echoed the divided survey results. Citing a lack of need, shifting population and costs he wrote, “Until the future is clearer we should delay action on this proposal” (1/19/61). With faltering and uneven enthusiasm, the steering committee delayed a vote to form the college district (Craig Empire Courier, 2/9/61).
While the college district stalled, The Steamboat Pilot suddenly announced the creation of Yampa Valley College, a private non-profit four year liberal arts college. In the works for several years, it was vigorously promoted by the community with ten thousand brochures mailed to seniors across the region. Classes were set up in the Legion Hall with local hotels serving as dormitories (3/8/62).
In September of 1962, nine buildings comprising the Rangely campus opened with 110 students, and the Yampa Valley College enrolled 11 students. At the same time, 44 of 75 students from the Moffat County High School class of 1962 left town to pursue further education at schools across the state and region (Craig Empire Courier 9/27/62).
According to the 1960 census Craig had a population of 3,984 compared to Steamboat’s 1,843 and Rangely’s 1,464, yet these towns decisively and aggressively played their cards and outmaneuvered Craig to create some form of post secondary education. (Craig Empire Courier 12/1/60). It wasn’t until 1989 that Moffat County voters finally approved an affiliated junior college to CNCC ultimately resulting in the construction of a new campus building in 2011.
In the early 1960s, Craig was confident in its economy and lifestyle, but to its detriment did not vigorously seek the advantages of a junior college. We should not dwell on the past too much, and hopefully this moment in our recent past can point our community in a different direction as we face long-lasting and influential decisions in the very near future.
James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to the Museum of Northwest Colorado for access to the local newspaper archives and Megan Neton for her editorial advice.
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