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Housing

Colorado Mountain College to spend $40M to build housing for students getting priced out of mountain towns

Housing accounts for most of the cost of a CMC degree, so 40 units each are planned for campuses in Breckenridge, Edwards, Spring Valley and Steamboat Springs.

Employee Courtney Lindgren navigates past the rooms inside the current residence hall on the Spring Valley campus near Glenwood Springs on June 17, 2021. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Jon Shipley moved to Summit County from Texas to earn an associates degree in environmental science at Colorado Mountain College.

Last fall he signed a two-year lease for an apartment. Earlier this year his landlord sold the unit and now Shipley and his family must move by the end of August.

“Our landlord said he got an incredible offer,” said Shipley, who has dropped out of classes to work as general manager for a sandwich shop while he searches for housing for his family. “I’ve been trying to fight to stay here and fight to go to school here and get my environmental science degree. There is so much stress around housing right now.”

Colorado Mountain College said Tuesday it will spend $40 million to build 35 to 40 new units of housing on each of its residential campuses, in Breckenridge, Edwards, Steamboat Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley, to help keep students like Shipley stay in class. 

“We recognize that housing is compromising the college,” said Carrie Hauser, the president and chief executive of the 20,000 student Colorado Mountain College. “So the college is investing in, and making a big step into housing.”

More than two-thirds of the cost of a Colorado Mountain College degree goes to housing in some of the country’s priciest resort areas, Hauser said. The challenge of finding homes for both students and employees is not new for the school, which several years ago provided a developer with acreage in exchange for 30 affordable units in Breckenridge.

Now Colorado Mountain College is expanding that model onto other land it owns. 

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“We won’t be solving the housing crisis but we are taking a bite of the apple and contributing some relief,” Hauser said. “Our students are the workforce and the workforce is our students.”

The school is open to working with partners but is “going to do this on our own,” Hauser said, noting that the school will be financing the project and recruiting developers. The 11-campus college is funded by a taxing district that spans 12,000 square miles in Colorado’s mountains.

Colorado Mountain College has added value to its communities since 1967. Its educational programs and bachelor degrees have not just trained nurses, teachers and ski resort operators, but the college has enabled locals to gather skills without leaving their communities. The dual-mission of Colorado Mountain College — offering two and four-year degrees — is “very much in tune with the local communities that finance us,” Hauser said.

“Our return on investment is to make sure we are turning out students who can fuel these local communities,” she said.

The hope is to build 50 to 60 bedrooms at each of the four campuses. The school, which was founded in Leadville and on the Spring Valley campus south of Glenwood Springs, owns more than 1,000 acres across western Colorado, most of it donated from local municipalities or area ranchers. Traditionally the school’s residential campuses have offered dormitory-style halls. 

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This plan calls for 12-month, affordable leases for apartments, geared more toward students who are taking classes and working in the community. 

“If we can give people a way to stick around and be part of these communities, it’s our mission to try to help contribute to the health of these communities,” Hauser said. 

Taylor Tennant has been in the nursing program at Colorado Mountain College’s Breckenridge campus for three years as she works full-time in the resort community. She lives in one of the 30 units the college built at the Summit County campus, where the school is expanding its nursing simulation lab to accommodate more students.

“This housing crisis is crazy,” said Tennant, who spent half a year sleeping on friends’ couches before she could get into the student apartment. “I think what CMC is offering right now is great, especially with the 12-month lease.”

Tennant and Shipley said the few rental leases available right now rarely stretch beyond six months. That means the search for long-term housing doesn’t end even on the day you move into a new place. 

“We are all victims of the fact that everyone wants to live in this beautiful rock pile and that’s the Colorado paradox,” Hauser said. “We have got to invest in and grow our own. It’s the only way we are going to grow our own workers and it’s the only way we can have a workforce that reflects our population.”

Chris Romer, the head of the Vail Valley Partnership who serves on Colorado Mountain College’s board of trustees, said the school is addressing not just its own organizational challenges with new housing, but community issues. He hopes more landowners, government entities and developers will follow suit. 

“I am hopeful it might spur other special districts to similarly invest in housing for their employees. CMC students are almost all part of our workforce, so housing benefits not just the school but the business community as well. It alleviates a small part of the housing crunch to open rentals for others.

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