Name change reflects new degree programs

Francisco Castro, an engineering instructor at what soon will become Colorado Mesa University, explains a fluid mechanics bench tester constructed by students at the Archuleta Engineering Building. (Business Times photo by Mike Moran)

Mesa State College made a big splash when it announced a name change designed to better reflect the location of the largest college in Western Colorado.

Starting Aug. 10, Mesa State College officially will become Colorado Mesa University. While not all signs and logos will be in place by that time, the college had already begun selling CMU sweatshirts and other memorabilia by mid-July.

While a name alone doesn’t always indicate a shift in organizational makeup, the change at the Grand Junction institution does come in the midst of substantial change.

The most obvious changes to passersby are the plethora of new buildings — $182 million worth of new construction and expansion in the past five years. The new construction accommodates student enrollment that’s grown from just under 6,000 in the fall of 2006 to more than 8,100 in the fall of 2010.

During that same span, the college also has added a variety of degree programs to better prepare students to meet workplace demands, particularly in Western Colorado.

From construction management to green energy and from mechanical engineering to a doctoral nursing degree program, the college has responded to pressure from alumni and contributors to teach students how to contribute and be profitable in the 21st century.

“The new programs are doing really well,” says Dana Nunn, director of media relations for the college. “I think it’s wonderful to be able to offer engineering.”

The engineering program is now in its fourth year, with nine seniors hoping to graduate in the spring. Fourteen more students are juniors and another 230 students have expressed interest in becoming mechanical engineers, says Tim Brower, head of the engineering department at Mesa State.

The four-year bachelor of science in mechanical engineering degree program is offered in partnership with the engineering program at the University of Colorado. CU faculty teach Mesa State students at the Grand Junction campus during the final two years of study. Brower himself receives 75 percent of his salary from CU and serves as director of the partnership program between the colleges.

The four-year degree in mechanical engineering is a good fit for people who want to design and manage large projects, Brower says. “It’s designing things that have never been designed before.”

The college also offers two engineering degree programs taught solely by Mesa State faculty — a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering technology and an associate of applied science in mechanical engineering technology. The technology degrees lead to more practical, hands-on work.

The first graduates-to-be in the engineering program are generally older than traditional college students, Brower says. But the junior class is a little younger, and subsequent classes include more recent high school graduates.

The engineering department works from the Archuleta Engineering Building on Foresight Circle near Western Colorado Community College. The building was donated by Leitner-Poma, a ski lift manufacturer that vacated the structure to move into newer facilities near Grand Junction Regional Airport.

The nursing program ranges from associate’s and bachelor’s degrees to master’s and doctoral degrees. A master’s of science degree offers students training in skills needed for management or for teaching nursing students. A doctor of nursing practice program is designed for nurses who want to become family nurse practitioners — experts in the delivery of primary care.

“It’s more clinically focused instead of theoretical,” says Kristy Reuss, head of the health sciences department at the college.

As older primary care doctors retire and the number of seniors who require care increases over the next decade, many health care analysts predict patients increasingly will see family nurse practitioners for routine physicals and other services formerly provided by doctors. Nurse practitioners can help make health care treatment more efficient, Reuss says.

Reuss is also discussing plans with the business department to create a health services concentration in the master’s of business administration degree program.

While the college name change hasn’t drawn praise from everyone on campus, Reuss says she’s a fan of including “university” in the new title. “With the addition of more graduate education, it’s important for us to become a university.” The change could draw even more attention to nursing programs that are already well known across the region, she adds.

The name change was instituted following a survey of prospective students and their parents in a region that included California, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. The survey indicated most out-of-state students couldn’t identify the location of Mesa State College. Recruiting out-of-state students is important because they pay about twice as much in tuition as in-state students.

Mesa State President Tim Foster predicts the state could cease to fund higher education by 2014 because of pressure to increase spending on health care. Foster has led the charge to explore ways to recruit more students from outside the state, which led to the name change.

One portion of the college that won’t change its name is Western Colorado Community College, which enrolled 2,200 of the 8,130 students at Mesa State last fall.

The community college offers open enrollment, accepting any student with a high school diploma or general education development (GED) certificate. But the college also includes students who already have four-year degrees and are looking for extra training or a new career path. Nationally, about 20 percent of community college students already have bachelor’s degrees, says Brigitte Sundermann, vice president of community college affairs at WCCC.

At the other end of the spectrum, high school students can enroll at the community college and earn credit for both high school and college from the same courses.

Back on the main campus, the college has worked to upgrade admissions standards. But tuition and fees remain lower than most colleges in the state. What soon will be Colorado Mesa University will increase tuition 5.5 percent this fall, while the University of Colorado is raising tuition 9 percent. Tuition is up 19 percent at Fort Lewis College and 20 percent at Colorado State University.

The economic effects of construction, employment and spending by the college is significant, according to research commissioned by the college. The college employs the equivalent of 1,500 full-time workers and contributes about $300 million a year to the local economy, Nunn says.