Best practices: partnering with UNM-Taos

By Bill Knief

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By now most Taos residents are aware of the current strategy of cutting public school and higher education budgets in order to pay off state deficits, and the loss of jobs this policy has already caused.

On the local level, well over a million dollars per year in salaries and benefits has been lost in the past few weeks alone due to 46 layoffs in education.

On a more personal level many of us are also aware of the pain and hardship this strategy has inflicted on colleagues, neighbors and family members, professionals all, who are suddenly out of a job.

Moreover, there is uncertainty about future generations of students who will enter a highly competitive workforce lacking the education they need, just because, in the words of Secretary of Higher Education Jose Garcia, “We can no longer afford it”.

At the same time, UNM-Taos is not standing still. Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill reminded staff and faculty during her budgetary address last month that part of our mission as a community college, regardless of how scarce resources have become, is to model best practices, and one of our very best practices is forming productive partnerships within the community we serve.

You’ve heard about the big ones: our nursing program supported by the regional hospital, which then turned around and hired eleven of the 14 new graduates. There have been collaborations with public utilities, sanitation districts and town and county governments to bring infrastructure and sustainable energy to the campus. Many state allocations and federally funded grants not only keep the college going but distribute much needed revenue throughout the community. We’re all in this together.

Here is an example of how partnering with our business community in a small way can make big things happen.

Nick Streit owns the Taos Fly Shop and has been teaching fly fishing through UNM-Taos for the past six or seven years, and just recently he has developed a program offering a variety of recreational classes to locals and visitors alike.

“In talking with Dean of Instruction Jim Gilroy it became clear that we needed to do something to make it easier for people to take self improvement classes,” he said, “and the place to do that was Continuing Ed.”

Continuing Education is a program which offers non-credit classes to the general public without depleting the scarce resources needed to provide the academic and career tech courses that make up the bulk of the college’s responsibility.

“I thought we could showcase some of the outdoor recreational talent we have in this town,” Streit said, “in the areas of fly fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking and the like, and do it in a way that visitors can get involved in. I don’t think Taos alone is big enough to support a strong continuing education program, so we really had to think about drawing participants from neighboring communities. If we could make these classes accessible to everybody, we’d have enough students for the classes to make, and everybody wins: the instructor makes a little money, locals have classes to choose from, and tourists can have a richer Taos experience.”

The key was to offer short, one or two day intensives rather than classes that lasted for a good part of the summer, and make them affordable.

“Continuing Ed is a great thing because it gives you hands on experience and skills rather than a grade. A guided fly fishing trip for two will cost you four hundred dollars, but the class is only a hundred dollars a day. In addition to beginning and intermediate fly fishing we put together a schedule offering John Duncan’s class on edible plants and hiking safety, Dr. Debbie Ragland’s class on the geology of the region, along with rock climbing, mountain biking and kayaking. We are giving people reasons to come to Taos. They spend their money here and come away with a really fun, rich experience.”

The big payoff for this partnership, however, is on the community level.

“This program has made it possible for a half dozen businesses to get together with a unified voice and market to out of town folks. That helps everybody, and it is exactly what we need to be doing at this time. The powers that be at UNM-Taos said that as long as they can break even and it benefits the community and peoples’ livelihoods by bringing visitors to Taos, they want to do it.”

You can reach Nick Streit at info@taosflyshop.com or 575 751-6630. Sabra Sowell, acting head of the UNM-Taos Arts Program, is offering a similar list of intensives in the arts, and you can reach her at 575 737-6256 or sabras@unm.edu.

This article is the first in a series on best practices at your community college.

About The Bill Knief