Colorado Mountain College president says she’ll step down in August

A female college president in blue robes smiles as she stands in front of a microphone.
Andy Colwell/Colorado Mountain College
Colorado Mountain College President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser delivers her commencement address during the spring 2022 commencement ceremony for Colorado Mountain College’s Salida campus, held at the SteamPlant Theater on May 7.

After more than 10 years leading Colorado Mountain College, President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser says she’ll step down in August. 

Hauser is the college’s longest-serving president, overseeing a collection of small-town campuses, mostly in resort communities across Colorado’s mountains. In a statement announcing her departure, Hauser said being part of the college has been “one of the greatest joys of my life.”

In an interview with CPR News, Hauser said she knows the timing is right but the transition is still bittersweet.

“Sometimes I’m a puddle,” she said with a smile.

Hauser said she has felt a lot of support since the announcement, especially from her female colleagues who’ve written to her about how important it’s been to have a woman in this role — only the second in the college’s history.

Hauser said she’s proud of how the school has changed over the last decade, including its climbing graduation rates and a student body that better reflects the diversity of the communities it serves. Nearly a third of all students are Latino, more than double what it was when Hauser started, and the college is now a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution. 

Hauser is also proud of the college’s efforts to be part of the solution to the housing crisis, which has centered around rapidly building new student housing across its communities, approximately 144 units in Steamboat Springs, Edwards, Breckenridge and outside of Glenwood Springs. 

Of course, her time at the college has had its share of challenges, the biggest being the pandemic. She remembers in 2020 the fear of how the college’s campuses were going to retain students, with lockdowns in place and tourists scared away. The answer was free tuition that summer — and the promise that students could grow their skills without having to leave their own community. 

That approach has been part of the college’s approach since it was created nearly 60 years ago: Giving people in hard-to-reach locations across Colorado a chance at post-secondary education. 

Before Interstate 70 crossed the state, before the Internet and cell phones, the college began training people of all ages in careers they could use in their very own community. What started in Glenwood Springs and Leadville has branched out to 11 campuses The programs range from degrees in fields like nursing and veterinary technology to certificates for programs like culinary arts and welding. 

The college has become an “economic engine,” Hauser said, and she feels she’s leaving it in a strong position for the next president — not that she can imagine ever being truly disconnected from it. Hauser imagines she might even teach a bit, something she hasn’t had time for as the college’s leader.

“I’ll be a champion and cheerleader from the sidelines,” Hauser said. 

The college’s board of trustees will meet Friday to discuss the process to the school’s next leader.