By Bill Knief
Amid the turmoil of a contentious legislative session and the uncertainty of a new funding formula being considered for higher education, UNM-Taos students are coming down the home stretch in record numbers to wrap up the spring semester, complete their finals and celebrate their successes in the 2011 commencement exercises March 13.
Although UNM-Taos is mindful of the background noise generated by people challenging the very mission of the colleges and universities serving New Mexico, the focus in Taos, as always, is on giving students the quality education they need to live productive lives. This week the class schedules for both summer and fall terms came out and the push is on for early enrollment. Students can—and should—enroll right now for both summer and fall semesters.
But with a 22 percent increase in enrollment at the same time that overall funding dropped by 21 percent, UNM-Taos Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill called faculty and staff together for a meeting on April 13 to discuss the implications of the state’s recently passed budget and its draconian impact on higher education. Among other things it imposes a pass-through “tuition credit”—a tax increase, essentially—that channels 9.5 percent of students’ tuition money directly to the state to help balance the budget.
“I think knowledge is power and so I wanted to make sure all of you are as empowered as possible,” O’Neill reported to some fifty attendees at the information session, “in terms of knowing what is going on with higher education funding at the state and federal levels.”
The all-important Dual Credit program and Developmental Studies classes were cut by $125,000, impacting hundreds of students getting a head start on higher education and raising their reading, writing and math skills up to college level. Dean of Instruction Jim Gilroy said that the Department of Instruction had been hit particularly hard, losing $890,000 in grants and state and federal funding.
One federal program that has not been cut was the Pell grant, key to the financial aid that many students must have in order to attend college. “If they had been cut we’d be having a very different conversation today,” O’Neill said.
In what O’Neill characterized as “leading by example,” she stated that both she and Dean Gilroy were taking salary cuts, administrators were taking on multiple roles, and our “motor pool” had been reduced to two 12 year old cars and a 20 year old pickup.
But on the positive side, O’Neill said, “We have a lot to be proud of, folks. I want you to hold your heads high. I want you to be aware of the threats that are out there, but this is quite a thriving campus. We must not lose sight of that in the face of serious challenges.”
One challenge that must be addressed is the proliferation of misinformation circulating as fact lately. On April 5 KRQE, the Fox television affiliate in Albuquerque, aired a story critical of UNM and its branches. We have posted it on our website, taos.unm.edu. Please take a look at it and email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, the positive daily work and accomplishments go on as usual:
Last Friday Nursing Director Kathy Falkenhagen informed us that our fledgling Nursing Program had just completed the accreditation process conducted by the New Mexico Board of Nursing and is now fully approved for the next eight years. This hardly came as a surprise, however, after an astounding 100 percent of the first cohort of students passed their national RN boards the first time out, and eleven of the fourteen are now practicing health care professionals in Taos County.
Taoseno Louis Moya, a Taos High graduate who obtained his law degree from Rutgers University after graduating Magna Cum Laude from UNM and is licensed to practice law in three states, has returned home to take on the formidable challenge of being our new Development Director. With his considerable experience in fundraising and development, coupled with his lifelong connection with the Taos community, he is a welcome addition to the UNM-Taos team.
Our bookstore is now online. This will not only result in a cost saving to the college, but will streamline the cumbersome process for students. Ordering, shipping and even returns can now be processed over the internet. Gone are the days when students had to wait until the first day of class to order books.
O’Neill summed up the current situation: “We’re here because of our students and we will continue to be true to our academic, workforce and personal enrichment commitment to the community.”
Next week O’Neill will schedule a public meeting to keep citizens informed about their community college.