By Bill Knief
This week’s column, 48th in the series, marks two years of UNM-Taos events, issues and personalities explored in The Taos News. It is fitting that it comes just as the annual cycle of semesters is beginning once again with Fall registration. The first day of classes is right around the corner: August 24.
Our daily enrollment numbers are holding strong. It looks like the final number of students will end up substantially higher than the Fall, 2008 total of 1,416, in part due to the urgent need people have to retrain, build new skill sets and seek more advanced certificates and degrees. And often the most economical place to achieve these educational goals is close to home: in the almost 1,200 community colleges across the nation which, according to the Washington Post, account for 44 percent of all undergraduates.
But on the local level there appears to be a second factor: the educational “climate” is changing. Higher education is no longer perceived in Taos as an option for only a small number of people but as the logical, affordable next step for people of all walks of life, age, gender, ethnicity and economic status. And that is the underlying reason for our recent success.
D. Moon Martin sees the college from a unique perspective. She’s the interim acting President of UNM-Taos Student Senate, and she feels that, “We are very blessed to be at this place at this time. All of us are always learning, no matter where we are on this earth-walk. As soon as we stop learning, that’s when we become stale and sad. I decided to go to college in midlife after recovering from a spinal cord injury, and I can tell you that sometimes, the harder you work the bigger the reward can be.”
“This fall will be my fourth semester at UNM-Taos,” Student Senator Aidan Shaffer added. “It’s a great place. I’ve been able to fund my education out of pocket. So far I have been debt free. The instructors present good challenges and the administration is incredibly helpful for networking with the other UNM systems throughout the state.”
Another Senator, eight year Taos resident Heidi Thorleifson, feels that “Living in a small community with a minor job makes it very hard to sustain yourself. To have financial stability you need that paper on the wall, and UNM-Taos is one of the reasons I’m still in Taos. One of its strong points is that it’s not intimidating. It’s a very relaxing and enriching environment. I like the community feel of it. I think for locals staying right here close to home is a really good option. By contrast, the community college in downtown Seattle was big and overwhelming.
“I’m a total recruiter,” Thorleifson laughed. “I say, get out there! Do it! What are you waiting for? Ask yourself what you are passionate about, and educate yourself about the available resources. Don’t just sit around and wonder why you are not in college.”
Here’s a good way to learn more: from 1 to 5 p.m. today New Student Orientation will be held on the Klauer Campus to give first time students a jump start on their college career. They can register for classes, get information about classes and programs, find out about financial aid, talk with faculty, meet fellow students and have lunch on top of it all.