Spring, already?

By Bill Knief

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Well, here we go again. Winter is upon us, the frost is on the pumpkin and the Spring 2011 UNM-Taos Schedule of Classes is being distributed in this week’s paper. Whether you’re a life long learner looking for that one special class, a degree seeker building up transfer credits or a person seeking to become more competitive in the job market, it’s a veritable cornucopia of educational options. First thing Monday morning early enrollment begins.

It’s an exciting time at the community college. Data diva Anne Landgraf just published the Institutional Effectiveness Report showing that we are continuing to experience unprecedented enrollment growth. We are up 6.5 percent from fall 2009 with 1,622 students, and even more remarkably student credit hours rose by 12.37 percent to 13,282 hours. As a result, the all important number of post secondary degree seeking students rose a significant 12.41 percent over 2009. Hispanic student enrollment increased by almost 20 percent, up nearly 48 percent from fall 2006. Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill has watched the college grow from the beginning.

“When I came here in 1993 we had 350 students,” she said. “We have grown 45 percent in the last five years alone. It’s phenomenal for a community college of our size to have as fine a faculty and as many course offerings as we provide. We are able to maintain the personal rapport between student and teacher even with distance education. You can come here from Taos or Penasco or Questa and not get lost in the shuffle. It’s a great way to start an academic career, get some of those core courses out of the way and learn what it really means to be a college student. We’re not just teaching people, we’re creating successful students, and that’s value added to the community.”

Despite the economic downturn the average class size at UNM-Taos is just 15 students. But the realities of the economy are harsh ones, and I wondered how long the college could keep up with demand.

“The paradox is that while we have more students than ever, we have fewer resources,” O’Neill explained. “The dollars are shrinking, and we are trying to hold on to the gains we have made in terms of the nursing program, the Kids’ Campus, the Small Business Development Center and other programs.

“The failure of Bond D for bricks and mortar for higher education was a shock and a disappointment,” she said. UNM-Taos stood to receive two million dollars to begin construction on a new library. “Our whole community worked really hard and in fact Taos County passed it by 56 percent, but it did not do as well in the rest of the state. It’s a setback we have to deal with.

“We are trying to keep tuition as low as possible while we try to keep from having any staff layoffs or furloughs, and we certainly haven’t had any pay raises for several years now. Our success is due to the dedication of our faculty and staff who go above and beyond in serving our students. But when you look at a state budget with an estimated shortfall of 500 million dollars, that is very sobering. The whole state budget is about six billion, and the higher ed portion of that is about 56 million, so obviously we are going to face some cuts. The question is what cuts and where, and how deep. It will depend on the Governor Elect’s political and economic assessment of the value of higher education throughout the state. Make no mistake, we are under extraordinary financial stress. So we appreciate Senator Cisneros, Representative Gonzales and all the other local legislators who will be deciding on the higher education funding formula in the upcoming 60 day legislative session.

“We will also continue to reach out to our excellent partners in our own community: Holy Cross Hospital, Kit Carson Electric, the municipalities, the businesses and individuals who have always been a part of the UNM-Taos team.”

About The Bill Knief