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Montrose layoffs result in free tuition at CMU and WCCC campuses

CMU community supports Russell Stover employees

CMU President Tim Foster announced employees of the Montrose Russell Stover factory are eligible for two semesters of free tuition at CMU and the university’s community college subdivision WCCC. The free tuition offering is a first of its kind for CMU, and is part of the campus effort to support the community.

Over the last decade Colorado Mesa University has continuously supported regional economic development efforts. From launching the Colorado Rural Jump-Start Program to educating the workforce of the future, CMU is at the forefront of economic enhancement initiatives. The no-cost tuition program for employees of Russell Stover demonstrates CMU also provides educational support not just on the forefront, but also when communities face challenges.

“Preparing the future workforce is an obvious part of our mission at CMU,” said President Tim Foster. “To fulfill our mission we must also focus on the less obvious efforts by supporting people who need help transitioning and recovering from significant economic disruptions. CMU and Western Colorado Community College will help employees at Russell Stover as they explore what’s next for their lives.”

The offer of free tuition for two semesters was initiated through an open letter to Russell Stover employees. Foster communicated that a series of support workshops will be offered to Stover employees interested, but who may not be sure about how to enroll. CMU offers robust services to first-generation students as well as adult learners. Many courses are offered online or on nights and weekends. This flexibility helps accommodate those who may have family, community or other obligations.

“Some people may decide to pursue a four year or advanced degree, but there are many other options available under this free tuition program,” said Vice President of Western Colorado Community College Brigitte Sundermann. “WCCC offers many two-year associate degrees, certificates or even single courses where people can quickly learn a new skill.”

On Monday, February 17, 2020 WCCC deployed the Sturm-ANB Bank Mobile Learning Lab to visit the Russell Stover Montrose factory to begin showing employees what programs the college can offer.

“Mechatronics is just one area we showcased today,” said Sundermann. “We just want people to know there is opportunity for nearly every diverse interest that people may have.”

CMU and WCCC will make additional workshops and information available based on the areas of interest expressed by Russell Stover employees. The Montrose-based manufacturer employs around 400 people and has operated in the area for almost five decades. The offering of free tuition is a result of the outsized potential impact the announcement may have on the community.

CMU Professor of Economics Nathan Perry has reported positive economic news for Montrose in CMU’s 2019 quarterly county economic research reports. Perry won’t speculate on specific impacts due to the pending layoffs, but believes the loss of a large employer is always difficult news. He believes the potential for retraining and increasing skills is an important option to have on the table.

"These layoffs will put a dent in the strong three years Montrose has experienced, but the good news is that the labor market is strong in Montrose, and I think if the economy stays strong despite the layoffs, Montrose can still have positive employment growth for 2020. Some workers may want to retrain and that’s where CMU comes in. There are benefits to enhancing workforce skills and those that choose to retrain may come out stronger. An educated workforce creates more resiliency to economic shocks." 

Sandy Head is the Executive Director of the Montrose Economic Development Corporation. She was pleased to see CMU come to the table with assistance.

“The overture and efforts made by CMU in the case of Montrose demonstrates the kind of pull-togetherness that

MEDC Executive Director Sandy Head

western Colorado is known for. I was pleased to hear the news,” said Head. “This is an extremely generous offer from CMU. They are setting an example that  free tuition might be something that could be looked at when it comes to the state supporting rural and distressed communities experiencing unexpected changes and challenges such as this one.”

Russell Stover shared with CMU leaders that after sharing the news of no cost tuition with employees they received “overwhelming positive comments,” and the opportunity “sparked much conversation about the future.”

CMU plans to work with the Montrose Workforce Center and other community leaders to schedule information workshops and enrollment trainings. For more information Russell Stover employees are encouraged to call the CMU Montrose Campus at 970.249.7009.


Written by David Ludlam