After 17 years spent overseeing Colorado Mesa University and growth in everything from student enrollment and degree programs to the physical facilities on the Grand Junction campus, Tim Foster has announced his retirement.
Foster said he expects to retire on June 30, the end of the academic and fiscal year.
The CMU Board of Trustees has launched a national search for a successor. A search committee has been formed to recommend a candidate to the board. An appointment is expected by mid-May.
“As we emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever, it seems the time is right for me to find the next challenge and for the university to have the next great leader,” Foster stated in a message to students, faculty, staff and alumni. “Above all, this is a case for invigoration. CMU is brimming with young energy and abundant talent.”
Foster said he expects to take a sabbatical that will include travel in the United States and overseas. He said he’s still mulling what will come next and hinted at the possibility of resuming his law practice. “Perhaps I will hang out my shingle and see who wants to engage an older attorney with some gas left in the tank.”
The board of trustees at what was at the time Mesa State College appointed Foster as president in 2004.
Before joining CMU, Foster served as executive director for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and head of the Department of Higher Education.
Foster served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1988 to 1996, for four sessions as House majority leader.
He also worked as a partner in the Grand Junction law firm of Foster, Larson, Laiche and Griff.
A Grand Junction native, Foster received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Kenyon College and completed course work for a master’s degree in mineral economics at the Colorado School of Mines. He earned his law degree from the University of Denver.
Foster was president when Mesa State College became Colorado Mesa University.
Under his tenure, CMU has grown in students enrollment, certificates and degrees awarded and a variety of other measures.
Between 2004 and 2019, enrollment grew from 5,750 to 9,373 — an increase of 63 percent. In fall 2006 and 2016, CMU ranked fifth nationally among the fastest-growing baccalaureate institutions in the United States.
The number of technical certificates and associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees CMU awards similarly increased — from a total of 860 in 2004 to a total of 1,936 in 2019.
The CMU campus itself has changed and expanded with the renovation and construction of new classroom buildings, student housing and other facilities. The total square footage of academic space alone nearly doubled from 451,600 in 2004 to 864,000 in 2019. CMU added 1,600 beds over the past 15 years to enable more students to live on campus. The total footprint of CMU was nearly five times larger in 2020 than it was two decades earlier.
The economic effects of CMU also have grown over the years, totaling during the 2019-and 2020 fiscal year an estimated $539 million in a 14-county region of Western Colorado.
Foster stated in his message he considered retiring a year ago. But he postponed the decision in part because of the opening of the Hotel Maverick, a boutique hotel on the Grand Junction campus that also serves as a teaching facility for the hospitality management program.
Then the coronavirus pandemic spread to Western Colorado. While CMU switched to online classes during the spring semester in 2020, the university returned to in-person instruction for the fall semester and again at the beginning of this year.
Trustees, faculty, staff and students at CMU are nimble and creative at responding to challenges, Foster said. “Because of that common culture, Colorado Mesa University is ready for the challenges ahead and to thrive, not just survive.”