One hundred and counting

By Bill Knief

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In the fall of 2007 I began writing The UNM-Taos Report column for the Taos News. Over the ensuing years it has been a much appreciated opportunity to get our message out and keep the community informed about the goings-on at their community college. Now, after 99 published articles, I’d like to use number 100 to reflect subjectively on the current state of our branch campus and how the changing perceptions of higher education are impacting it.

First off, one thing that hasn’t changed: to me Taos is, as it has always been, an island of sanity in a choppy sea of factionalism and what increasingly looks like a “cultural revolution” in the very worst sense. Here, with only a few exceptions, people are still civil to one another. Neighbors try hard to at least tolerate if not respect each other, but are quick to offer a helping hand when it is needed. I know there is a small subculture of sad individuals out there who will scoff at these words, but nevertheless they have proven true for me for ‘lo these many years.

Likewise, here in Taos, education is held in high esteem while across the country (and as close as the Roundhouse in Santa Fe) resources intended for public and higher education are being siphoned off wholesale, ostensibly to prop up shortfalls elsewhere. A dumbed-down, anti-education sentiment seems to be taking hold, not just in the media but in the innermost workings of our society. When the Governor’s appointee to head the Department of Higher Education went on television (Casa Fox, April 5, 2011) to say that “while…in the last few years this proliferation [of community colleges] has resulted in a huge increase in geographic access…[now] we’re in an economic downturn and we can’t afford it,” one began to wonder if the lion’s share of resources intended to make higher education accessible to every citizen are instead about to be redistributed to a privileged few.

But not here. Not at UNM-Taos. I won’t pretend that we haven’t taken major hits in our state funding over the past three years, even while enrollment numbers have surged, or that these cuts haven’t forced changes in how we serve our students. We have had to increase class size, lay off employees, lose adjunct faculty and hone down our curriculum. This fall, for the first time in four years, enrollment did not increase. But interestingly enough, the number of students that we lost is almost exactly the number of dual credit students that were dropped from that essential program. In other words, the slowing down of enrollment was the direct result of the governor’s decision to defund—not a cooling off of interest in education on the part of the citizens of the north.

At the same time we are continuing to build partnerships with institutions around the state: Holy Cross Hospital, Kit Carson Electric, UNM main campus, our sister community colleges, Workforce Solutions, Los Alamos National Labs and Taos Community Foundation to name but a few. They have supported our nursing program, The Literacy Center, the solar array that powers our campus, and many other essential programs. A federal Title V grant (in collaboration with our colleagues at Northern College in Espanola) just brought in 2.7 million to improve student success, and our distance education and continuing education programs are expanding to ensure access throughout our service area. Career prep and workforce training continue to increase. And we have friends in high places:

Senator Cisneros and Representative Gonzales, two of the most senior legislators in state government, have worked quietly and tirelessly over the years to support accessible higher education for their constituents. The Town of Taos backs The Literacy Center, helped us with the build-out of campus infrastructure, and serves as a fair and responsible landlord for our in-town facilities. The County Commissioners have always been supportive, and The Taos Municipal School Board serves as our advisory board. The citizens of Taos County took on a mil levy to provide bus service to Klauer campus—and in fact, in the beginning, our community college got its start because the town and the county gave it their full and generous support.

Admittedly, this list barely scratches the surface, and to it I must add our very best friends in high places: our students, past, present and future; their families; and the individual citizens of northern New Mexico who will settle for nothing less than quality, affordable education for all who seek it. With their support, we can surely look forward to continuing success for many years to come. That’s how I see it.

About The Bill Knief