Klauer Campus

The past is prologue

By Bill Knief

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Another year has come and gone, and once again it’s time to reflect on how far we have come at UNM-Taos, and where we stand today. I grew up at a time when being able to accurately decode Roman numerals was thought to be an essential component of the grade school curriculum. Now it’s only necessary if you own a really expensive European wrist watch (or replica) and even then you only have to go to XII. Education, to be effective, must constantly evolve.

In 2011 we brought on board a grants officer and a development director charged with attracting the funding we need to fully realize our mission of providing affordable, quality education to all who seek it in northern New Mexico. At the same time, the role of community colleges has been called into question.

“I think the times are changing,” Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill reflected. “With state budgets being cut throughout the country, people are looking for streamlined programs in education, and New Mexico is no exception. So they have begun the process of revising the funding formula for higher education. As a result we have had extensive budget cuts over the past three years, but the latest numbers indicate that the budget for New Mexico is stabilizing, and we are encouraged that we will not have to suffer additional cuts and layoffs. However, there are a lot of details still to be worked out having to do with dual enrollment, workforce development, and transfer students.”

In response to a more robust economy, it will be interesting to see if funding for education improves, or continues to decline to fit the ideology of the moment.

“Community colleges have a very robust, multi-part mission that needs to be better understood in Santa Fe,” O’Neill said. “Along with certificate and degree seekers we serve non-degree seeking students, lifelong learners and small business owners who may just want to take an Excel class for accounting purposes, or a Web design class to assist them in their business. This is significant because the Taos area has twice the national average of small businesses. Should those entrepreneurs count any less than other students?

“Under the new funding formula, we would not get the same level of credit for those students as those who get a certificate or degree, and that seems to be narrowing the mission of community colleges.

“We have accomplished a lot in the last year despite budget cuts and even some reduction of force here at UNM-Taos, O’Neill went on. “We received a four star rating for the UNM-Taos Kids’ Campus which we are very proud of. The Literacy Center was recognized as the best ABE-GED program in New Mexico, and as one of the state’s two newest branch campuses, UNM-Taos enrollment continues to grow. Our faculty member David Chavez received a prestigious award from the Department of Energy for his work at LANL, our Nursing Program is thriving and we continue to build partnerships throughout the region.”

O’Neill cited other successes in 2011. UNM-Taos received 3.9 million in individual and collaborative Title V grants that will help fund student retention and graduation initiatives, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. Los Alamos National Laboratory doubled last year’s grant to $50,000 in recognition of our excellent staff and implementation at the community college level. The UNM-Taos bookstore went to an online service, and the bookstore space has been converted into a library outreach center for students in developmental studies, along with distance education training for faculty. UNM-Taos received monies for the Accelerate program supporting STEM curriculum to strengthen the computational skills so necessary to the workforce of tomorrow. Our federal delegation, Representative Ben Ray Lujan in particular, assisted in acquiring funds to equip classrooms with distance education technology and training for instructors.

“I think one size does not fit all when it comes to distance education, however,” O’Neill maintained. “We need to continue to look at best practices and to offer a variety of course options: some face-to-face, some totally online, and some hybrid courses that are a mix of classroom and online instruction. When you are talking about first-generation college students in particular, they really need advising, mentoring and tutoring services to help them navigate the system. Grant monies we have received will help us do that. As in previous years, the CASA Tutoring program provides assistance in English and math at no charge to students.”

This past year was filled with daunting challenges alongside hard-won successes. We look forward to 2012 with optimism; at this writing, three weeks before the start of the spring semester, well over 900 students have already enrolled in more than 8,100 credit hours of instruction. Now that’s really something for the Taos community to brag about.

About The Bill Knief