Growing role of CMU underscores importance of finding the right leader

Announcements made only a week apart underscore the importance of two things: the contributions of Colorado Mesa University to Western Colorado and the person who leads CMU.

According to the latest results of an analysis conducted every two years, CMU accounted for $539 million in economic effects in a 14-county region of the West Slope during the 2019 and 2020 fiscal year. The total estimated economic effect of CMU has increased in every analysis — 15 percent over the $468.7 million calculated for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

A week earlier, Tim Foster announced he’s retiring at the end of June after serving 17 years of president of CMU.

Operating a university is, of course, a team sport that involves faculty, staff, students and countless other who contribute to the success of the programs offered there. It’s not a stretch by any means, though, to suggest there’s a correlation between the growth of CMU and Foster’s service as president.

Consider some of the eye-popping numbers:

Student enrollment has increased 63 percent between 2004 and 2019 — from 5,750 to 9,373.

The number of certificates, undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded at CMU increased from a total of 860 in 2004 to a total of 1,939 in 2019.

The footprint of the CMU campus in Grand Junction has grown five fold over the past two decades. The total square footage of academic space has nearly doubled from 451,600 in 2004 to 864,000 in 2019. CMU has added 1,600 beds over the past 15 years to enable more students to live on campus.

For Western Colorado businesses, the contributions of CMU also include the preparation of students to take on the responsibilities of a variety of jobs. CMU helps keep talented students from the region in the region while also attracting students from outside the region who decide after graduation how much they enjoy living here. Rather than a brain drain, CMU contributes to a brain gain.

The presence of a university also attracts businesses to the region. Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, says she considers CMU the most important partner in economic development efforts. Many businesses come to the Grand Valley, she says, because of CMU.

The responsibility of operating a great university doesn’t fall solely on the president. But the president plays a crucial role. The president helps define and establish a culture, a mission and a vision. The president creates a collaborative environment in which faculty, staff, students and the community work together to turn dreams into reality. The president serves at once as an administrator, facilitator and cheerleader.

The CMU board of trustees has launched a national search for a new president. A search committee has been formed to evaluate and recommend a candidate to the board. The announcement of an appointment is expected by the middle of May. The search couldn’t be more important not only for the university and its students, but also for Western Colorado and its economic success. 

Here’s hoping the new president of CMU takes up where Tim Foster left off.