By Bill Knief
It’s enrollment time again at UNM-Taos, and a good time to reflect on the role of higher education in northern New Mexico. The beauty of a rural community college is that its mission is formed to great extent by the needs of the citizens residing the communities it serves. Nowhere is this more apparent than at UNM-Taos.
We offer quality, affordable higher education opportunities to all who seek them. Our community college practices open enrollment; if you are determined to work hard to reach your goals, we welcome you, even if all you need to do is polish your skills or take a few classes.
Our tuition is one of the lowest in the state, a fraction of the cost of four year institutions even without considering the high cost of students relocating to another city. Then there are the for-profits. According to the April 15, 2012 New Mexico Business Weekly, in 2011 the largest of these, the University of Phoenix, despite being underwritten for the most part by federal tax dollars and having one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation, was charging an astounding $365 per credit hour not including fees, which comes out to over a thousand dollars per class. At the same time, tuition at UNM-Taos was only $62.00 per credit hour. (Since then, it has gone up to $71.00 to offset dwindling state support.)
Our student to faculty ratio, again according to New Mexico Business Weekly, was 12:1 for the 2011 school year, and will probably go up slightly this year. The result is smaller classes and a friendlier, face-to-face educational experience sensitive to cultural and ethnic differences as well as economic necessities. That, and the fact that graduate students do not teach UNM-Taos classes, ensures a quality faculty surpassing most other colleges and universities for their level of degree achievement.
It’s no wonder that we had the highest enrollment increase in the state this Fall.
But these things didn’t happen overnight, or by accident. They came about because of the enormous support for education that Taosenos have expressed over the years in person, in classrooms and at the ballot box, and for which we are deeply grateful. In September the E-GRT passed by a substantial margin and six weeks later the General Obligation Bond C for Education’s passage ensured that we will be able to continue improving our infrastructure and building out the Klauer campus to meet expanding needs. Guided by their commitment to higher education and the firm leadership of Senator Carlos Cisneros and Representative Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, Taos county residents ranked number one among the 33 New Mexico counties in their overwhelming approval of GO Bond C. Certainly that is something for all Taosenos to take pride in.
Patricia Gonzales is the Director of Student Affairs, which among many other duties puts her in charge of enrollment. The first week of registration has been brisk, she says, with a steady stream of students coming in every day. She has been with UNM-Taos for sixteen years now, and her story mirrors the experiences and challenges of many of our students.
“I graduated from Taos High in 1993 and attended the main campus in Albuquerque for one year,” she said in an interview earlier this week. “I didn’t like it. I think it was culture shock for me in the sense that I was attending a campus that was bigger than the community I had grown up in. I was very fortunate that UNM opened up in Taos the year after I graduated, and I started taking classes immediately after I got back because I knew I wanted to be in Taos. I got into a work study program and worked for several years in financial aid, was hired as administrative assistant for the Department of Student Affairs, went back to Financial Aid and eventually took over the Department of Student Affairs.
“All that time I was also a student. I gained my associate’s degree, went on to a bachelor’s degree, got my master’s degree and then got my certificate in business computing, all through UNM-Taos. And on a personal level, through that process I met my husband, at UNM-Taos, actually, we had children and made a life here in Taos, partly because I had the support of my family. My husband also got his Bachelor of University Studies, transferred down to Northern, got on the fast track for education and became a teacher, then got his Master’s in Educational Leadership here.
“I hate to say I wouldn’t have continued my education if UNM-Taos hadn’t been here, but I didn’t like city life and I probably would have found a job, got into the local workforce and not necessarily continued my education. But now I am fortunate to be able to help students find and use the tools they need to be successful. I encourage everyone to at least consider higher education. Talk to your friends and family. Come in and talk to an advisor, and see if it might be right for you.”