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Colorado Mountain degree bill advances

Colorado Mountain College wants to offer bachelor’s degrees, and the Senate Education Committee Wednesday approved the bill that would allow the local district junior college to do just that.

Senate Bill 10-101 was one of four bills passed by the committee that sponsors touted as providing more opportunities for college students.

The Department of Higher Education opposes SB 10-101, arguing that the question of expanding CMC’s mission shouldn’t be answered until after completion of the higher education strategic plan at the end of this year.

Colorado Mountain College's facility in Edwards.
Colorado Mountain College's facility in Edwards.

Rico Munn, DHE director, called allowing a junior college to offer bachelor’s degrees “a fundamental and drastic change,” saying it’s “something we should look at as part of the overall strategic process.”

Despite Munn’s comments, passage was something of a foregone conclusion, given that five of the committee’s eight members are cosponsors of the bill.

Both Munn and sponsor Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, said they’ve been discussing possible amendments to the measure, which still must go to the Senate floor and then through the House.

As currently drafted, the bill gives CMC blanket approval to offer bachelor’s degrees. But, college President Stan Jensen told the committee that CMC is interested in offering degrees in specific subjects that meet area workforce needs, such as resort management and teaching.

Jensen, Gibbs and other supporters repeatedly made the argument that the college needs to meet the education demands of residents who don’t have the mobility, flexibility or financial resources to attend colleges on the Front Range, the Western Slope or elsewhere.

CMC, with some 24,000 students, operates several campuses in central and northwestern mountain counties. It has a board elected from its service area and local tax support but receives some state funding.

The committee also approved three other bills related to colleges:

Senate Bill 10-088 would allow community colleges to offer majors, with some restrictions. The measure was pushed by community college leaders, who believe students will be more motivated to continue their higher education at four-year schools if they can have a major in community college, rather than just receive an associate’s degree in general studies. Sponsor is Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, and the vote was 8-0.

Senate Bill 10-108 would allow private and proprietary colleges to participate in the state colleges core courses system, which allows inter-college credit transfer of more than 1,100 courses. The voluntary program would require interested private colleges to pay fees for full review of their courses. Some faculty groups have expressed displeasure with the bill, but no one testified in opposition Wednesday. The sponsor is Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, who said he expects Colorado Technical University would be the institution most interested in the opportunity. (King is administrator of Colorado Springs Early Colleges, a charter school that shares a campus with CTU.) The vote was 8-0.

Senate Bill 10-064 would streamline the process by which students apply for College Opportunity Fund stipends. Instead of having to fill out online or paper forms, students could just check a box on their application to any state college. The sponsor is Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and the vote also was 8-0.

The committee also voted 7-0 to pass Senate Bill 10-111, another King proposal that would allow schools supervised by the Charter School Institute to contract for services with boards of cooperative education services, which are important sources of special education services for some school districts. A provision that would have allowed institute schools to formally join BOCES was removed from the bill.

This week’s budget fight

The House spent several hours Wednesday debating and then giving preliminary approval to a package of more than 30 bills making balancing adjustments to the 2009-10 budget. To oversimplify the debate, the Joint Budget Committee and most Democrats are backing a complex mix of cuts and fund transfers, while Republicans would prefer more straight cuts. The package cuts about $475 million.

State support for K-12 schools was not part of the debate. The legislature already has passed Senate Bill 10-065, which cuts $110 million from 2009-10 state school aid and does not fund $20 million that would have been reimbursed for enrollment growth in a “normal” year.

Students rally against cuts

State colleges face a $60 million cut in state support in 2010-11, and students are looking at tuition increases of up to 9 percent. A bigger cut is expected in 2011-12.

Students rallied on six campuses at noon Wednesday, and a large rally is scheduled for the Capitol on March 3.

For the record

The House gave preliminary approval to House Bill 10-1044 (licensing of neighborhood youth organizations) and House Bill 10-1171 (elimination of some education data reporting requirements).

The Senate confirmed the appointments of Heidi Van Huysen of Denver and Karen Wilde of Aurora to the Fort Lewis College board.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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