CB council open to help fund Gunnison Valley Promise

“A gift that can transform lives…”

[ By Mark Reaman ]

Proponents for the Gunnison Valley Promise program that would help fund free tuition at Western Colorado University for any local high student that wants to go to college came to the Crested Butte town council earlier this month to seek financial assistance. The goal is to approach Crested Butte, Gunnison County, the city of Gunnison and the town of Mt. Crested Butte for a combined $2 million over the next three years. That would be about half of a $4 million endowment goal that could fund the program.

Under the program, free tuition would be provided for four years to all full-time students who graduate from the Gunnison Watershed School District regardless of financial qualifications.

According to the program organizers, the vision is “to make attainable what seemed impossible due to financial obstacles.”
Director of the Western Foundation, Tom Burggraf, laid out the scenario to the council of a fictional, impoverished fourth grade student living in a trailer in Gunnison who would not be able to afford tuition. “The Gunnison Valley Promise gives students like ‘Maria’ the permission to dream,” he said. “To promise a tuition free college education that will make life better for her. This gift can touch and transform lives. We can’t change the world, but we can change the world for every student in our corner of the world.”

Vice president of advancement at WCU Mike LaPlant explained that tuition for fiscal year 2022 was $6,816. The average aid package for local students was $4,078. So the estimated need beyond current financial aid is $2,500. The target is to get 30 local students enrolled per class so after four years when the program is full, the funding need would be $300,000.

LaPlant said the goal was to raise $4 million as a Foundation endowment. He said that would make the numbers work. Funding opportunities being pursued include approaching all the local governments, looking for business partnerships, touching base with philanthropists and obtaining grants.

The program organizers suggested that area government contributions be split according to population. They were asking Crested Butte for $66,667 each year for the next three years or $200,000. The county will be asked for $313,333, the city of Gunnison for $253,333, and the town of Mt. Crested Butte for $33,333.

“Every dollar you give would go directly to the cause,” promised Burggraf. “There is no overhead.”

As a former teacher, Crested Butte councilmember Jason MacMillan said he really liked the idea. “I am thankful you are putting forth such a meaningful program,” he said.

“As you know we are scrambling for funds for affordable housing,” said mayor Jim Schmidt. “So I’m not sure how this would fit in. We do have some discretionary funds but this is a larger ask than most.”

“We are just starting to approach the local governments to get a feel,” said WCU vice president/chief financial officer Julie Bacca.
“I thought this was a really compelling presentation and a worthy investment for our community,” said councilmember Jasmine Whelan. “I hope we can find a way to prioritize this.”

“I hope we can make this happen too,” said councilmember Chris Haver.

Town manager Dara MacDonald said she would include the Gunnison Valley Promise funding request for consideration in the upcoming budget.

“In terms of return on investment, I have never had the opportunity to champion a cause like this. This is special,” concluded Burggraf.

Check Also

CB PO to seek community feedback on new location

Looking for 11,000 square feet [  By Mark Reaman  ] The town of Crested Butte …