Reflecting on CNCC after 50 years

Russell George, finishing his second year as president of Colorado Northwestern Community College, offers knowledge of the past, a vision of the future and a long career of serving Colorado.

Russell George, finishing his second year as president of Colorado Northwestern Community College, offers knowledge of the past, a vision of the future and a long career of serving Colorado.
Russell George, finishing his second year as president of Colorado Northwestern Community College, offers knowledge of the past, a vision of the future and a long career of serving Colorado.
RBC I First a small-town lawyer, then a legislator, then director of a couple state government departments and, now, Russell George is ending his second year as president of Colorado Northwestern Community College with a vast vision for the future while being highly reflective of the past.
CNCC just finished celebrating its 50th anniversary, crowned by the burial of a time capsule George envisions as representing the college’s colorful past while keeping in mind the vision that will be seen by those who are tasked with opening that time capsule in another 50 years.
“When I came here in 2011, I knew the 50th anniversary was coming,” George said. “I wanted to do something special — hence the time capsule.
“The college isn’t the newest or oldest or the largest or smallest within the Colorado Community College System,” he said. “But it has a long history of cooperation between the people in the community who had the foresight to see the importance of the college and the involvement of companies within the energy industry who made this college what it is.”
It is that cooperation between the individuals who continue to support the college, the continued support of energy and other companies in the area and the visions of all combined who will continue to drive CNCC into the future, “meeting the needs of the citizens, the industries and the communities this college serves,” George said.
George graduated from Colorado State University, earned his law degree at Harvard and settled into a small law office in his hometown of Rifle.
His stint as a state legislator led to his role as Speaker of the House from 1993 to 2000, followed by serving as director of three state departments. He was named CNCC president in 2011.
The capsule, to be opened again in 2062, contains 70 items that represent the college from the early days up to the present, including letters from college organizers, pins from the college, photos of the history of the college, pennants, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, giving those who open the capsule a solid history of CNCC’s first 50 years.
“There is a letter from me on top of all the items, and I hope the letter and other items demonstrate the promise and hope we have for the next 50 years,” George said. “I am in a unique position of not having a background in education, but I have a solid history in business, and a college is a business. If we don’t bring in more money than we spend, we are in trouble.
“We will always need the help of the community members and industry, but if we can’t pay the bills, then the first 50 years won’t mean anything in the future,” he said. “If we had 25 extra students on the Rangely campus and 50 more on the Craig campus, we would have a financially sustainable population at both, but that alone doesn’t allow for expansion, remodeling, updating or any of the extras we need.”
George says he sees the future of the college much like its past.
“This college started out educating students in Northwestern Colorado, adding programs along the way in an effort to meet the needs of the residents, students and industry in the area,” he said. “Although there is faster growth and more technology that is increasing faster than we can keep up with it, I see our mission for the future as the same – to meet the needs of those in Northwestern Colorado.
“We will be expanding on the Craig campus, be remodeling some on the Rangely campus and I would love to see more growth from the Meeker service center,” he said. “We are in a technology-driven world now and we will be adding programs in the future and hopefully expanding in all three directions, benefitting more people and meeting more needs as they arise. But I consider that a continuation of the college’s goal to meet community needs.”
George said he doesn’t see any near-future program expansions because there have been programs in the past that didn’t pay off nor meet community needs.
“We are always listening to community needs and talking with residents, businesses and industry about their needs,” George said. “We may be tweaking what we offer in our current programs, but until we hear of the need for us to expand, we are going to focus on improving the programs we have.
“Changes in communications and transportation are vital in our lives, and now students can study anywhere they want in the world because of distance education classes (the Internet),” he said. “We want to meet that challenge too as students are now taking classes around the globe. We are supported by taxes from two counties (Rio Blanco and Moffat), and as they continue to grow, we will continue to grow.”
George said CNCC has nowhere near reached its capacity on distance education, and he pointed out that through the state’s CCC program, classes are also accessible from other state community colleges.
“The community is also starting to talk about a culinary arts program and a hotel management program because this is so much a tourism/recreation area; we are listening.” George said. “It could be a natural course for here, but for Rio Blanco and Moffat counties there needs to be more growth. The other side of that is that Colorado’s tourism industry is exploding, and a program in culinary arts or hotel management could help fill the need for both across the state.”
Related to expansion, George said the college’s financial makeup is under review.
“We are looking at Craig programs, possible expansion of the sports programs to Craig and the possible addition of housing there,” George said. “We want to be one college and run the campuses with one voice. There are lots of plans to grow with Craig, and we are working with Moffat County and the City of Craig, and both entities are interested as well.
“We have a great location next to the highway in Craig, and that property will allow for multi-agency growth on or near the campus,” he said.
“But most important in our future is we need to be smart, pay attention and understand our place in the community,” George said. “We will continue to be here, to benefit the growing needs of the communities involved.
“We are still the best and most-affordable alternative for those students not wanting to attend or not being able to afford a major university, where life is a whole lot different than the more relaxed atmosphere here,” he said. “At CNCC, the instructors can and want to work closer with the students to give them the best education possible regardless of the program.”