Mesa State’s plan to expand its degrees moves forward


Legislative hurdle

Colorado Mountain College needs legislative approval to offer four-year degrees because, as a public institution that is partially funded by the state, it operates under legislative authority as a junior college with a mission limited to offering two-year degrees.

CMC initially was created as part of a statewide strategy to have community colleges in virtually every part of the state, CMC President Stan Jensen said.

Mesa State College would be able to expand its degree programs under a bill that cleared its first hurdle Thursday in the Colorado Legislature.

But not everyone in the state’s higher-education community likes the idea.

Rico Munn, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, told lawmakers he didn’t care for the bill, in part, because the college didn’t ask the right question of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Munn opposed the bill because the college didn’t ask the 11-member commission if it could offer specific new degrees. Instead, the college asked for the commission’s blessing in presenting the bill, which it gave.

“Currently, Mesa has the ability to offer graduate programs for specialized programs, though they can offer a limited number,” said Munn, who also serves as the Colorado Commission on Higher Education’s executive officer. “SB79 would strike the limiting language from Mesa’s role and mission, which would essentially set a new precedent within our four-year colleges.”

Munn said the reason colleges are limited in what programs they can offer is to avoid too much duplication. He said part of the commission’s job is to prevent too many of the same degree programs so colleges don’t compete for a limited number of students, and the bill makes that job harder.

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, who introduced the bill, said that while other schools in the state already offer some of the programs Mesa State wants to add, they all are located so far away, and there are enough students to go around.

“Mesa State (student) count is up from 6,230 last year to more than 7,000,” the Grand Junction Republican said. “With that growth in student population comes a growth in demand for programs, among them graduate degrees. If you’re a nontraditional student, or if you’re a traditional student from Grand Junction, all things being equal you’d rather not drive 250 miles to get that graduate degree.”

Penry said the college wants to offer several new master’s degree programs, including medicine and nursing. Mesa State President Tim Foster and Mesa State College Trustee Doug Price echoed that reasoning.

“What this allows our board to do is to plan to meet the needs of a geographic area and student population where access might not otherwise be available,” Price told the committee, which approved the bill on a 5-2 vote. “We also see the growth in higher ed as a more and more critical component in what is going to happen in a region.”

Mesa State offers master’s degrees in education and business. Foster said more are needed, particularly in science fields.


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