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How do you spell success?

By Bill Knief

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In the real world there is no such thing as perfection, and every institution can stand some improvement. Most of the time we measure our successes not by reaching our goals, if they are lofty ones, but by how close we come to meeting them. No one knows this better than Amie Chavez-Aguilar, Student Success Director at UNM-Taos.

“The Student Success Department was created to be a link between academic affairs and student affairs,” she explained. “Our job is to try to figure out ways to help students complete what they set out to do and graduate in greater numbers. We recently reached the highest spring enrollment and the largest number of fulltime students ever recorded at UNM-Taos. But what happens when the economy stabilizes and people get back to work? Are our students going to finish the certificates and degrees they’ve started on? We don’t want them to come out the other end with thousands of dollars in debt and nothing to show for it.”

Nationally, community colleges are responsible for roughly half of all college level enrollment, and that figure is rising due to the convenience and affordability of small local institutions. But when it comes to persistence over the long haul and completion of academic goals, it’s another story.

“We try to figure out ways to help students be successful,” Chavez-Aguilar explained. “One way, of course, is student advising. It’s required of every student until they have at least 24 hours of credit. Budgets are tight but we have two full time advisors, Damon Montclaire and Mildred Young, who do a great job. The staff in the Enrollment Office also fills in wherever they can. Faculty can send us early alert forms when there is an academic problem, and Rose Licetti has recently come on board to do personal advising. She has her own office off campus and she works with individuals and helps with referrals.

“We do what we can with the resources we have and everybody pitches in.”

In addition to advising, the CASA Program under the direction of Kathy Spess works closely with Student Success to provide tutoring. CASA has just recently completed the move to Pueblo Hall on the Klaure campus, and they have a new phone number: 737-3695. “It’s a wonderful experience watching students teach other students,” Spess remarked. “All my tutors are CRLA certified and they go through rigorous training.

Like all services offered by Student Success, CASA tutoring is provided without charge to students

“We are an academic institution but it doesn’t stop there,” Chavez-Aguilar continued. “We want students to be in school successfully, not just because they add to the head count. We deal with all sorts of social issues and personal issues. Academics don’t occur in isolation. Our focus is on the entire student—trying to develop life goals through advising. That emphasis shouldn’t pertain to higher education alone. I believe it holds true at every level down to the youngest child. I think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: if your basic needs aren’t being taken care of, you can’t be a successful student.

“Sometimes all they need is tutoring. Sometimes it’s bigger. A student comes to you and says, I can’t go to class because I have to work an extra hour so I can pay the rent. What do you do?”

“I see more and more students coming in with a sense of panic, of hopelessness, and they find in UNM-Taos a tool to deal with that hopelessness. We want them to be challenged, not overwhelmed. It’s not a perfect system, but there are always solutions available if we work together.”

About The Bill Knief

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