CMU sucker-punched

Colorado Mesa University had just released its inaugural Centennial State Survey when the Colorado Commission on Higher Education delivered an unwarranted blow to the school on Friday that reinforces Western Slope perceptions of “two Colorados.”

The survey highlighted what many of us already know to be true: Colorado’s economy feels great to Denver metro area residents while those of us in rural areas continue to struggle.

So maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised when the CCHE refused to approve a plan submitted by CMU to add graduate programs in the health field: physician assistant, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Still, it’s an outrage.

The move blocks the Legislature from considering an $8.3 million capital construction request for a building to house the programs and derails CMU’s earnest attempt to fast-track a program that provides strong employment opportunities across Colorado and the region. Given the state of our economy, this should have been a no-brainer.

We can’t explain why the commission went down a rabbit hole of debating the merits or the timing of CMU’s submission.

While we would hazard a guess that only a handful of our readers have ever heard of the CCHE, suffice it to say that they are a statutorily chartered coordinating board, made up of commissioners appointed by the governor.

From prioritizing capital construction requests to developing an equitable financial aid distribution formula, they have a handful of tasks to accomplish each year. One of them is to approve academic program plans submitted by colleges and universities.

The process for approving a program plan is normally quite perfunctory. It’s hard to imagine CU-Boulder or CSU running into this kind of interference. But this board — consisting of nine representatives from the I-25 corridor, with only two from western Colorado — chose to reject CMU’s program plan despite the fact that these new programs apparently meet all the published criteria for approval.

This is a huge missed opportunity for our region.  CMU received a pleasant surprise from national accreditors that the physician assistant program in particular would be able to begin matriculating students as soon as 2018 — three years sooner than originally thought — assuming CMU could quickly put a plan together to provide space, faculty and support for a program beginning in the Fall of 2018. The simplest step in this process was approval by the CCHE.

In our current political environment, there is an abundance of evidence that voters have grown sick and tired of government agencies being so wedded to process and procedure that they fail to use common sense and good judgment to do what’s right.

From where we sit, the CCHE really dropped the ball in rejecting the plan brought forth by CMU. It’s our hope that the commission evaluate the negative impact of this decision on the entire region’s economy and favorably reconsider adding these important programs at their next meeting.

For the oft-forgotten Western Slope, and our struggling economy, it’s never too late to do the right thing.


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The CCHE staff recommended approving the program plan only:

“This request was submitted outside of the normal cycle for state-funded projects, and limited time was provided for program plan review and follow up. As the institution requested only for the program plan to be approved, the recommendation is only to approve the program plan. It does not include prioritization of the project, forwarding of the project to OSPB [Office of State Planning and Budget]  or legislative committees, or any other aspect of the state-funded project approval process outlined in 23-1- 106(7)(a) or 23-1-106(7)(b).”

The editorial says the CCHE refused to approve the plan. So either they rejected the staff recommendation or they okayed a plan without allowing it to go forward in this funding cycle. In either case, clarification would be have been useful in this editorial.

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