Colorado Mesa University (CMU) has big plans for growth in Montrose, as well as at the main campus in Grand Junction.
Montrose campus director Dr. Gary Ratcliff outlined those plans in a recent presentation to The Forum, a group that meets every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. at Heidi’s Deli, in Montrose.
When he first spoke to The Forum last year, Ratcliff had only been on the job a month, and was “still getting my sea legs. Now, I’ve been here long enough to get a good handle on the campus, and develop plans for it.”
Colorado Mesa University, formerly known as Mesa State College, has been serving students in the Montrose area since 1991. To give the audience the context to understand his plans for the Montrose branch campus, Ratcliff first explained what’s happening to the entire university.
CMU is now largest university on Western Slope, with 9500 students. “There are now 74 majors, 46 minors. The university includes Western Colorado Community College (in Grand Junction). And, it’s growing! The University will soon complete construction on a new engineering building,” Ratcliff explained enthusiastically.
CMU’s business model is focusing on programs that will be of interest to large numbers of students, and linked to growing professions.
“What’s astounding is the annual economic impact of a college on a community,” Ratcliff said. “CMU has quantified that for Grand Junction. The direct economic annual impact, without counting spinoffs, is $248 million.”
The Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce has offered to aid CMU in growing the number of students to 15,000, said Ratcliff.
“I hope we can do the same thing here in Montrose, because having a college branch campus is an asset to the community in so many ways, in terms of educating our young people, and the economic and cultural benefits that come along with it.”
So, what precisely is a branch campus, anyway? “We’re basically a portal for local students to access CMU, and start their education. We offer a range of classes that enable students to begin their bachelor’s degree and complete their general educational requirements. We do offer associate’s degrees, but most students are interested in getting their bachelor’s degree.”
The Montrose campus is in the Buell Higher Education Center, connected to the Montrose Regional Library, at the intersection of S. 2nd and S. Cascade.
“We have six classrooms, two computer labs, and two nursing labs,” said Ratcliff. “It’s about 12,000 sq. ft. of space. The classrooms have all the latest technology. We’ve got all the bells and whistles.”
Ratcliff says he is spending a lot of time working on a strategic plan that will map out the future direction of the campus. He’s doing this in conjunction with the CMU Montrose Community Advisory Council. The plan calls for expansion of academic programs and facilities, with community engagement in fundraising.
“One of our upcoming projects is the renovation of the Community Options building,” according to Ratcliff. “The vacant building sits across the street from the Montrose campus, and has 12,000 sq.ft. of space. “It does need a significant renovation; the building’s exterior remains very strong, but the interior really needs to be modernized to serve the campus. It is a potential space for expanding our career and technical education programs.”
Of course, ‘How do you fund campus expansion?” is the big question. “In Grand Junction, the city gives us $1 million a year for land acquisition. And, Mesa County gives $300,000 a year.” As for the Montrose campus, Ratcliff said, “We’ve had good success here, with the city and the county, with the renovation of the Buell Education Center, and the creation of our campus quad. They’ve also helped with the acquisition of the Community Options building. Beyond the building, the next phase is for us to have conversations with the city, the county, and the community about how we want the campus to grow, and what it’s identity should be.”
For example, the question of whether to turn CMU Montrose into a residential campus has come up. Ratcliff thinks a residence hall would enhance learning amongst the students. “I think one of the most powerful ways students learn is from their peers. If we had a residence hall, we could bring in students from other parts of Colorado, and expose our local students to meet different students, and expose them to different perspectives, beliefs, attitudes, lifestyles, and career objectives.” He believes it would offer challenging growth experiences to local students.
“I’ve heard from city leaders is about the synergy that can occur between the campus and the downtown area. That is, if we were to have a residence hall, and the campus were to grow, that would help downtown.” Ratcliff says he can envision downtown Montrose sharing in the advantages enjoyed by other college towns, with student-filled coffee shops spreading an intellectual and economic “buzz”. “I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” he said with a smile.