By Bill Knief
“Lately, my favorite saying is, ‘Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape.’”
Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill’s comment at the UNM-Taos faculty orientation last Saturday fairly summed up the feelings of uncertainty and deep concern swirling around higher education in the past few months.
O’Neill reported that she and Jim Gilroy, Dean of Instruction, had just returned from a meeting with Dr. Jose Garcia, Secretary of Higher Education, and the directors and presidents of all the two year colleges in New Mexico. The subject was the first phase of a major change in how those institutions are to be funded.
“We’re not going to know for certain till after the legislative session ends what the complete formula will look like,” she said, “but I want to keep you fully informed about the changes as they take place. It is happening at the national as well as the state level, and it will seriously impact us.
“Starting in June of 2012, we will no longer receive funding based on our enrollment numbers alone—head count and number of credit hours—as of the 21st day of the semester. We will be funded instead through a formula that also takes into account completion numbers at the end of the semester.
“At the same time, we can no longer depend on the funding sources of the past. Perkins funding has been zeroed out. There is more competition for fewer dollars, and so we are trying to refocus our energies to be as creative and productive as we can. I met with both Representative Ben Ray Lujan and Senator Jeff Bingaman the other day and they confirmed that the kind of money we received last year for distance education equipment—around $450,000—is not available at this point, so we will have to collaborate, work through other agencies, and form more intensive and extensive collaborations.”
And yet, despite the considerable challenges to higher education caused by the current political and economic climate, enthusiasm is up and indications are that the fall semester is going to be another in a long string of record breakers. Ironically, exact figures are not available on a daily basis this year because budget cuts have forced the college to drastically reduce its data staff, and the hard-pressed enrollment office has had its hands full just keeping up with demand.
“These times are challenging, even unsettling, but we will move through them as best we can,” O’Neill concluded. “Your attitude, your dedication and your willingness to work with our students in a committed and wholehearted way makes all the difference. I appreciate everything you do.”
Jim Gilroy remarked to the crowd of over 150 instructors and administrators that, “Every year, faculty orientation is a celebration, as we come together representing this community with all the experience and credentials you have, and the expertise you bring. It’s a real honor to be a part of this. Ten years ago area high school graduates did not consider UNM-Taos as an option for their postsecondary education. They were looking at UNM, or New Mexico State, or out of state. In the last three years it is amazing how much that has changed.”
Gilroy went on to say that funding from state sources alone over those three years had dropped roughly $400,000 even as 500 new students were coming on board.
“So you see, we are trying to do more with a lot less. As a teacher of evolutionary biology, the one thing I find particularly unique about our species is our ability to imagine. As Taosenos we take special pride in our imagination and creativity, and we are looking for ways to be more entrepreneurial about this educational endeavor that we are a part of.”
Some of the bigger challenges, Gilroy maintained, would be in the areas of financial aid, progress toward degrees and certificates requiring more extensive advising, career technical programs, and the new funding formula which will reward the number of students at the end of the semester working toward degrees and certificates rather than initial enrollment numbers.
“We saw some of these changes coming about a year ago, and began to adapt our programs accordingly,” he said.
It is firming up to be another exceptional semester at our community college.