One hand holding a lens with a CMU sign in focus
Focus on the future is the cover story in the fall 2017 edition of The Maverick magazine.


Focus on the future

By Nancy Lofholm

This is the simple math problem that adds up to so much for Colorado Mesa University and the Grand Valley at large: Start with 11,000 college students. Add to that at least 4,000 new students with the help of 5,000 community members.

The sum is 20,000, as in a new community-wide initiative called CMU20000. The result is also a jump in annual CMU economic impact to more than half a billion dollars.

CMU20000, which kicked off in May, isn’t all about numbers. Adding more bodies on campus and more student-spenders in local stores and restaurants is just one piece of CMU20000. The initiative is also about branding Grand Junction as a vibrant university town — a point of pride to an entire community that recognizes and enjoys the economic, cultural and academic impacts of an institution of higher learning. It is about positioning Grand Junction as THE premiere university town of western Colorado. Like the association of Fort Collins to Colorado State University; Boulder to the University of Colorado; and Lawrence, Kansas, to the University of Kansas; Grand Junction and CMU would be inextricably linked with the help of CMU20000.

“Anyone who has been to these towns knows the impact their respective universities have on their communities, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t be inspired to have a fun and vibrant college-town atmosphere here, too,” said Alex Chaffetz, a Grand Junction businessman whose idea sparked the CMU20000 initiative.

Chaffetz, who has lived in Grand Junction for 17 years, said the idea came to him after watching CMU grow from a small-town college to a more impressive university with a huge, and sometimes underappreciated, economic impact.

The most recent CMU economic impact study calculated that the university generates nearly $450 million in the community. The study showed students are great consumers. But the impact figure doesn’t include only what students spend. Students have parents and friends who visit. Airport use is boosted. Hotel stays and restaurant bottom-lines climb. Visits to Powderhorn, the Colorado National Monument and other area attractions go up. Clothing sales, hair salons and mechanic shops do more business. Chaffetz looked at all that and thought, ‘if an enrollment of 11,000 brings in that much, adding more students would bring in this much more.’ It is an easy equation: Higher enrollment equals community growth.

“I think too often as a community we keep looking for shiny objects that we hope will improve our economy, but the reality is that we already have a vital economic engine in CMU, and we should do everything we can to promote it,” Chaffetz said.

Since the university and the community need and depend upon each other, Chaffetz based his idea on getting community members directly involved in promoting CMU. Thus, recruiting 5,000 community members became part of the CMU20000 initiative.

These community boosters are being encouraged to pitch in on everything from guiding more District 51 students to enroll at their local university to creating more opportunities for university students to work in their fields of study. A two-way-street effort is designed to get more residents to go on campus and enjoy all the athletic, performing arts and educational events available for the public. At the same time, community members are being encouraged to help showcase support for university students by posting welcoming window stickers and banners and organizing off-campus events attractive to university students. Community members are being urged to submit their own ideas and also to offer input on educational tracks that would benefit the community.

CMU President Tim Foster said the university is ahead of the curve on tailoring programs of study to fill community needs. Throughout the years, CMU has responded to community needs by building and expanding programs, such as the new engineering major and the longtime nursing track.

“We are trying to create a new dynamic here and we already have a good start. A lot of communities would kill to have our town/gown relationship and our good campus and city cooperation,” Foster said. “We are listening. We are asking the community, ‘Tell us what you need’.”

The CMU20000 initiative recognizes that there are some numbers problems to solve as it calls for community cooperation to increase enrollment.

Less than half of Mesa County’s District 51 students go on to higher education. Colorado is one of the most educated states in the country: It is in the top five of educated states with 37.5% of residents aged 25-34 having bachelor’s degrees or higher. But Mesa County falls far short in that measure. Only a quarter of residents in that age group have earned degrees.

A 2016 Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce study showed, on a national scale, how those numbers translate to economic gain – and hints at what the Grand Junction area could stand to gain with higher local enrollment. In 2016, 8.4 million jobs were added for those with post-secondary degrees. Jobs requiring associate degrees increased by 3.1 million. Jobs suited for those with a high school degree or less climbed by only 80,000.

Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke said she sees improving those statistics as a win-win for both the town and the university.

“This is about a partnership,” she said. “It is not CMU coming with a hand out asking the community for something. Being recognized as a university town has spinoff potential for all of us.”

The chamber is a leader of the CMU20000 initiative and a partner in four committees that are already at work promoting many concepts behind the initiative. Those committees are:

Student Recruitment headed by CMU Vice President for Student Services John Marshall and chamber board member Ryan Ellington. Its goals are to:

  • Look for ways to strengthen CMU as a first choice for District 51 high school graduates.
  • Leverage more community assets including adding more direct flights to and from Grand Junction Regional Airport to bolster recruitment opportunities.
  • Develop community support for recruitment efforts in the Front Range, in other states and in international locations.

Community Visibility with Kim Williams from CMU and chamber board member Stacey Stewart at the helm. It will:

  • Be responsible for the marketing and communication plan for CMU20000.
  • Partner with organizations like the CMU Alumni Association and the Downtown Development Authority to develop more engagement between the community and the university.

Community Engagement led by CMU Foundation CEO and Vice President of Development Liz Meyer and Susan Alvillar from the chamber board. It seeks to:

  • Develop innovative scholarship ideas to support efforts to bring more District 51 students to the university.
  • Foster a strong partnership with the university and the chamber to connect businesses with internship opportunities.
  • Get more community members on campus by enhancing awareness of CMU events.

 Government Engagement co-chaired by Derek Wagner, CMU vice president for intergovernmental and community affairs, and David Ludlam from the chamber. It plans to:

  • Support naming opportunities to enhance awareness of the university.
  • Support local government efforts to improve entrance signage to the Grand Valley
  • Engage chamber members and community stakeholders to interact with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and to find opportunities to work with key legislators.

Some of the measures are already underway. CMU has been working in area high schools to improve college readiness and has been using professors as ‘ambassadors’ to increase awareness of different programs and stoke interest in fields of study. This school year, CMU career advisors have been placed in each of the high schools to work with the half of students who don’t plan to seek bachelor’s degrees or other post-secondary education. The advisors will help students identify interests, seek funding options and connect to shadowing and apprenticeship opportunities.

The job of helping to direct students to appropriate fields of study is made easier by the fact that CMU has a unique asset — Western Colorado Community College. Students who may not be interested in pursuing a four-year or beyond academic track have the option of earning two-year associate degrees or specialized certificates in workplace skills for in-demand jobs. Grand Junction restaurants, ambulances, drilling crews, real estate offices and numerous other businesses are already bolstered by employees who are graduates of the community college.

The CMU20000 effort will also focus on attracting more students seeking online degrees or post-graduate degrees. The advanced tracks added in recent years include master’s degrees in education and nursing and a doctoral program for nurse practitioners.

Foster said, even with all those pluses, the CMU20000 initiative is important for another reason: CMU’s “backyard” needs some ‘protecting.’

There are 500 or so institutions of higher learning vying for students in Colorado. Some of those including, the University of Phoenix, Grand Canyon University and University of Northern Colorado in Greeley are aggressively marketing in the Grand Valley. Billboards have popped up from some of these other colleges and universities.

While CMU seeks to add to its numbers in this competitive environment, Foster said he doesn’t want to detract from another factor that makes CMU attractive to students — small class size and individual attention. He said professors have told him an increase to 15,000 students won’t affect that.

“With 15,000 we can maintain our quality and personality and what we do best,” Foster said.

Chaffetz isn’t stuck on any particular number. He simply envisions CMU20000 helping to create a vibrant community with many fun events and job opportunities cultivated from graduate-driven entrepreneurship as well as from growing businesses. He foresees Grand Junction, a town battered by boom-and-bust cycles in the energy sector, joining the ranks of proud university towns that are more recession-proof.

“What it comes down to,” he said, “is that every university town I have ever visited has been a great place to live, work and play.”

To join in the CMU20000 effort, call the chamber at 970.242.3214 or email with your ideas and areas of interest where you would like to help. Ideas can also be sent to To officially become part of the math behind CMU20000, register at

Media Contact

David Ludlam, Director of Public Relations

970.248.1868 (o)

970.433.2178 (c)

More Information

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