A partnership about prosperity, knowledge

A news story in The Daily Sentinel last week — that Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster asked the Grand Junction City Council to expand its partnership with the university to help build a new academic building on campus — didn’t generate a lot of public interest.

We hope it produces a great deal of support for the university, because the idea is a sensible one. First, it’s good for the economy of the city, (and Mesa County, which will also be asked to participate). Additionally, it enhances the university’s ability to meet its goal of “supporting the residents of Western Colorado” in reaching their educational objectives and preparing themselves to meet the future.

Nearly everyone who visits the CMU campus these days is astounded by the transformation over the past half decade. New dormitories, new and remodeled classroom buildings, a spectacular new university center and a revamped and expanded athletic facility contribute to the new atmosphere. What was once a sleepy school with a community-college feel, is now a vibrant and growing university. Additions to academic programs have been equally important in attracting more students and new faculty members.

All this has been accomplished while keeping CMU’s tuition and fees among the lowest in Colorado.

The university center was built with a student-approved fees to finance the construction. And dormitories pay for themselves in a few years through room fees paid by student residents. But classrooms are a different animal. Until recently, they have been paid for largely with state funding, and some donations. But state money has nearly dried up recently.

Yet, even with a new academic building that opened just a few years ago, CMU is rapidly running out of classroom space. That’s why it is planning for a new $17 million building for the language, literature and mass communication departments.

CMU is asking the city — and later will ask Mesa County — to expand the financial partnerships they already have with the university by committing funds to help pay bonds that CMU plans to sell for construction of the building.

From an economic standpoint, that makes sense because CMU has a huge positive impact on local government finances. The latest estimate of the university’s economic impact to the region is more than $317 million for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Its students alone spend an estimated $85 million a year locally.

But the school’s contribution is more than just to the area’s bottom line. It assists local governments in planning efforts, historical research and offers numerous cultural activities. And, in working to enhance the educational attainment of people in 14 Western Slope counties, it is also creating a better-educated populace to serve the needs of area businesses. Also, it is creating a nucleus of knowledge and creativity that will assist in developing new businesses and attracting more talent.

This partnership is anything but a one-way street. We hope the City Council and Mesa County commissioners will give serious consideration to expanding their partnership with CMU by helping it construct a new academic building and maintain its recent record of success and growth.


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