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Tim Foster Announces Plans to Retire as CMU President

Tenure spans 17 years and oversaw dramatic changes to campus’ academic offerings and physical footprint. Trustees prepare for a national search for next president.

President Tim Foster — who took the helm at Colorado Mesa University in March 2004 — announced today his intention to retire as president effective June 30, 2021.

Foster's tenure marked a period of dramatic evolution for the institution. These changes included vastly broadening student access, enrollment, retention and graduation rates; formally creating a community college division, growing/restructuring baccalaureate offerings, and adding graduate programs to meet regional employment needs; rebranding and renaming the institution; more than quadrupling the campus' square footage; tripling the operating budget; and dramatically growing fundraising and the foundation's endowment.

Under the leadership of Foster, CMU transitioned into a competitive baccalaureate public university reaching into parts of the broader Rocky Mountain and Midwest Plains regions.

"President Foster is a great visionary who also possesses the rare quality of being able to execute on that vision. He created a world-class campus, retained and recruited incredible faculty, and hired and grew an impressive administrative team," said Trustee Ray Anilionis, chair of CMU's board of trustees.

"Perhaps as notable as accomplishing the incredible vision he had for CMU, Foster is one of the humblest people I know, who rarely took credit and always shined light on the team around him," Anilionis added.

Today, more than 29% of CMU's students are from traditionally under-represented groups — more than triple the number enrolled in 2004. Among those are student leaders, including trustee Jacqueline Cordova and ASG president Angel Bautista.

"CMU received national attention for our campus' response to COVID-19," said Cordova.

"President Foster's leadership kept us open and allowed me to continue the experience of traditional university life despite the challenges. This tremendous leadership is a perfect end to his service to students like me and I am glad to have worked by his side this year."

Foster also worked alongside academic leadership and the faculty, restructuring CMU's academic offerings during his tenure to make graduates more competitive in the workplace.

"In a few short years during our centennial celebration, and far beyond when people look back at the history of this institution, one won't be able to think about CMU without seeing Tim Foster in all aspects of it. He left an indelible mark," said Tim Casey, PhD, professor of political science.

"He is a visionary. Love him or hate him, he had a vision and he followed through on it. While we haven't been without disagreements, he was always willing to hear all sides of an issue and he recognized that it takes all sides to make a community. Some may not have liked the way he paid attention to detail — at a level that most presidents would not — but from academics to facilities, it was his willingness to roll up his sleeves and get into the nitty gritty that made an impact," Casey said.

"At the end of the day, CMU is a healthier campus, and the community is better off because of his efforts," Casey added.

Foster's announcement comes as the university is preparing to release its latest Regional Impact Study, which documents the profound impact CMU has on the economy of Western Colorado. This study estimates that in FY 2019-20, the university was responsible for infusing more than $269 million directly into the regional economy, and when indirect spending is considered the total economic impact is $539 million.

"It's rare that a person has the opportunity to shape and mold a community and make such a positive impact on the community they grew up in, but President Foster has served Grand Junction all of his life," said Casey.

Beyond the numbers, the soon-to-be-released report details more specifically the evolution of CMU since 2004.

"Sometimes we hear about a university being a small city within a city," said Foster. "I believe that when it comes to CMU, we are not apart from the community but are a part of the community. The connection between CMU and the regional economy sets the stage for a diversified, strong and vibrant economy in the coming decades. I am proud to be but a part of CMU's almost century long history in strengthening western Colorado."

The report further details the transitions that CMU has undergone since 2004, as preparation for its centennial celebration in 2025 and planning begins for its next century of service to Colorado. The adaptations of the past include broadening student access and diversifying enrollments; preparing graduates for the 21st century workplace; engaging and supporting students; transitioning revenue streams and controlling costs; rebuilding the campuses; investing in technology; and expanding community outreach. The report will be published in February.

"I will never forget the day we hired Tim Foster at CMU," said long-time community philanthropist and former CMU trustee Lena Elliott.

"That was the day that CMU's transformation began. Truth be known, I have known Tim his entire life and CMU has also transformed him into the national leader he has become. I couldn't be prouder to have been a part of this legacy," Elliott added.

A native of Grand Junction, Colorado, Foster earned a BA in economics with honors from Kenyon College, completed graduate coursework for a master's degree in mineral economics at the Colorado School of Mines, earned a JD from the University of Denver - College of Law, served as a state representative and house majority leader and, later, as executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. He is the married father of four sons, an avid bike rider, skier, swimmer, soccer player and coach.

The university's board of trustees now embarks on a national search for CMU's next president. A website will be created to keep the university community and other stakeholders updated on the presidential search process.