When I came here in 1974 Taos didn’t have a community college, and it wasn’t until 2003 that UNM-Taos became a full fledged branch two-year school. Now, as an adjunct instructor and coordinator for the journalism program at UNM-Taos, I can see how UNM-Taos can—and must—play a major role in the lives of the citizens of northern New Mexico far broader than just being “that college out by the golf course.”
For one thing, as Town Councilman Darren Cordova reminds us, “Economic development begins with higher education,” and UNM-Taos is continuing to concentrate on workforce development and career tech programs.
But it doesn’t stop there. Academic excellence should remain the top priority. And at the same time, a branch campus must also address the issues of the lifelong learner. One student, Derek Heagerty, put it this way: “The academic side is fine, but I’m using this knowledge to pursue my dreams.”
Moreover, a community college must keep in mind the diverse needs of the high school graduate thinking about the options of a certificate, a degree or a career. The single mom with a toddler or two at home, and the student balancing a job with the responsibilities of caring for aging parents. The retiree who finally has time to pursue a passion. The veteran returning from Iraq.
The constituency is broad, and the challenges complex.
This is the first in a series of articles that will address some of those challenges, and try to determine, fairly, how UNM-Taos is measuring up; a report card, if you will. As the newest and smallest (in terms of square footage, but not in enrollment) branch campus, UNM-Taos has its work cut out for it. To get more than a passing grade it has to take a fresh approach to old problems, and be willing to adapt to the changing needs and lifestyles of the population it serves.
A FALL HARVEST
A very current example of this proactive approach is the Fall Harvest selection of weekend and evening classes and eight week intensives beginning October 15.
For the first time ever, UNM-Taos has let go of the traditional academic grid of two semesters and a summer session, and is offering a cornucopia of for-credit courses that will run through mid December.
“We are trying to adjust our priorities in response to people’s lifestyles and needs,” explained Dr. Kate O’Neill, UNM-Taos executive director. “Everyone seems short on time, so we’ve created short courses. It has been hectic getting the new schedule off the ground, but if an institution is afraid to try something new, how can it ever reach its full potential?”
The rich array of class offerings shows off the diverse talents of faculty. They range from Estevan Arellano’s “La Resolana: Traditional Ecological Knowledge” to a Raku pottery workshop with Matt Adams, Jill Wasden’s “Money—Introduction to Financial Markets,” peace studies, physical education and a tasty honors offering, Tracy Skipp’s “Infinity and Jelly Doughnuts: The Neuro-Anatomy of Time and Thought.” You can access the entire schedule of classes at http://taos.unm.edu/fallharvest/.
It’s a busy time for the community college. Funding has been approved for the completion of water and sewer lines out at the Klauer campus, and the Flintco crew has already started kicking up the dust to get the new buildings open and occupied.
Long term, Dr. O’Neill expects the audit she ordered this summer to be completed by December, and this, O’Neill maintains, will give a clear picture of the financial health of the institution—a must whenever a new administrator comes on board.
“We will all benefit from a good, honest assessment,” she said.
UNM-Taos will also be looking into a first-of-its-kind strategic action plan, which will give the community an opportunity to participate in charting the course of its own community college in the years to come.
These issues and more will be covered in future articles.