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Enrollment increases once again at UNM-Taos

By Bill Knief

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The numbers don’t lie. Once again UNM-Taos has come out on top, even in a time when most prognosticators figured that, with state funding cuts causing tuition increases, federal grants and student loans shrinking and the improving economy producing at least a trickle of jobs, enrollment numbers in colleges and universities throughout the nation were going to drop. Northern fell by 11.6%. Los Alamos enrollment went up 7.61 percent, but the other branches dropped; Gallup by 4.67% and Valencia by 3.65%. Even UNM main campus fell almost 2%. But not here. We topped the state with an 8.91% increase in headcount, mostly thanks to dual credit, (or early college, as it is now known) students.

“We’re seeing more students taking more core classes that they know will transfer and lead to certificates and associate degrees, because they want to make sure they don’t run out of financial aid,” explained Dr. Kate O’Neill, executive director of UNM-Taos. “Pell grants are limited to 12 semesters now, and 54% of our students have Pell grants, so students want to be sure their courses count toward their ultimate career and academic goals.”

Another reason our enrollment numbers remain consistently high is the reorganization of the Department of Instruction under three area coordinators: Joel Whitehead, who handles academic curricula, Dr. Martinez Hewlett, who is in charge of health sciences, and Victoria Gonzales, who runs all the programs related to business and professional skills. Each coordinator is responsible for around ten department chairs and their accompanying programs, and I asked Victoria Gonzales to give me some background on some of the programs in her area.

“Maybe if we get it all down on paper we’ll be able to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing,” she laughed. “Technically, I’m a program manager, and I serve as the liaison between the program directors in my area and Dr. Randi Archuleta, our Dean of Instruction.

“I have several different programs, but they all have the same focus, which is career technical and workforce development. I’m the PI (Principal Investigator, the responsible contact person) on three grants: Accelerate, Perkins, which is funded through the PED (Public Education Department) and a new program called STEP, which is the STEM Talent Enhancement Program designed for students who will move on after they receive their degree here in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program. I am also the coordinator for business and professional skills, so everything in my area comes together in terms of career technical and workforce development. Recently we were able to bring Avelina Martinez on board as the Career Technical Advisor to work specifically on Accelerate, because my work load was beginning to get a little frightening. She’s been here for just over a week, and she has already made a huge difference.

“Accelerate is a good example of a program that really helps us reach the goal of developing students that are skill-ready and fully prepared to join the workforce as soon as they complete the program,” Gonzales added. “We are so fortunate to have Avelina with us to promote that. In my experience, what local employers most often need are employees with basic work skills, and that’s what Accelerate really does well.”

“We teach the basics,” Martinez said, “phone skills, customer service skills, how to build a resume, how to write a cover letter, how to put yourself out there, how to network. We teach students how to conduct themselves in a professional manner. We even partner with Human Services to provide professional attire for students going to job interviews.

“It’s all about collaboration. Accelerate has programs at Luna, Highlands, Northern, Santa Fe Community College, UNM Los Alamos and UNM-Taos, and we all have the same goal. That is to build strong, vibrant, diverse communities. Accelerate works with non-traditional students, individuals coming back to be retrained in a different field or build a different skill set. Some may not be “book smart” or “school smart,” but they can build upon their strengths and start a career path.

“The big, practical side of all of this is that we’re really trying to grow our own employees for our own economy.”

This is the third year that Accelerate has enrolled 20 students in the program. For more information on Accelerate you can talk with Avelina Martinez at 575 737-3697 or email her at avelina@unm.edu. You can also go to the websites www.taos.unm.edu and www.accelerate.org.

About The Bill Knief