If you ask a fifth-grade student what kind of career they’d like while they’re staring up at a person dressed in an eagle costume, chances are pretty good one of the answers will be “Mascot!”
Swoop, the dynamic Colorado Mountain College mascot, took center stage recently at Basalt Middle School to encourage students to dream big and consider college and post-secondary education as a viable option after high school.
Accompanying the colorful winged attraction was CMC President Carrie Besnette Hauser, who holds a doctorate in higher education and who has been visiting middle schools from Basalt to Frisco to drive home the message that “College is for Me.”
“Fifth grade is a great time for students to realize that they hold the key to their own future success,” Hauser says. “If they dream of a particular career, they can start making plans on how to prepare themselves now. The first step is to make a goal, which is why I ask them what they want to do.”
According to CMC, which has three residential campuses and eight community campuses across the region, by the year 2020, three-fourths of all jobs in Colorado will require some form of post-secondary education.
Current projections, however, note that only one in four local high school graduates will complete an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years.
To meet future workforce needs, 90 percent of students graduating from high school will need to complete a college degree or certificate, so CMC developed the “College is for Me” initiative to start motivating younger generations to do well in school, graduate high school and see post-secondary education as not only affordable but as a critical pathway to attaining the career and life they want.
As Hauser explained to her audience, over a lifetime, college graduates earn one million dollars more than those who have only a high school degree.
Hauser and Swoop concluded their presentation by handing out baby swoop keychains and “golden tickets,” which entitle students and their families to visit the Spring Valley campus for a tour.
Long after Swoop and Hauser leave the stage, the work at BMS of encouraging students to consider post-secondary education continues. Fifth graders will now make poster boards that outline their college goals. Students in later grades take a College in Colorado interest profiler to explore possible career options, and Crew advisory classes regularly reinforce the topic with goal-setting conversations and guest speakers.
Local organization Youthentity provides a career exploration program to sixth graders, while pre-collegiate classes prepare first-generation students to head to college starting in seventh grade.
Eighth graders tour the CMC Spring Valley campus each spring for a hands-on introduction to residential college life.
BMS School Counselor Marlon Funez feels that building awareness now gives students more options for the future.
“The middle school years are about exploring what’s out there,” he says. “I want to make sure that post-secondary options are in their mind as a way to pursue their dream. The more students are encouraged to start thinking and planning now, the more likely they are to choose that path down the road.