Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions

UNM-Taos: Ahead of the curve

By Bill Knief

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UNM-Taos is proud to be an HSI—a Hispanic Serving Institution. That is a federal designation that qualifies colleges and universities to apply for the Title V grants which are a major funding source for our community college. One of the main requirements for being accepted as a Hispanic Serving Institution is that your student enrollment be at least 25 percent Hispanic. Ours routinely runs in the sixties. Because of the significance of this, I asked Anita Bringas, recently returned from conferences in New Jersey and Washington DC, to share some thoughts about what federal programs mean to a small, rural branch campus.

The first conference I was involved in was in San Antonio in 2012, providing administrative support for the UNM-Taos Title V office and David Trujillo, Director of Grants, Special Projects and Title V,” she explained. Juan Montes and his team made a presentation to the group.

This year I went to the fifth annual Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators (AHSIE) conference in New Jersey both as an attendee and part time staff person to learn best practices and how to implement, manage and oversee these programs. I also served as a member of the Alliance board and a member of the conference planning committee. Being relatively new in the Title V world, it was a tremendous experience.

More than 40 different colleges and universities were represented at this national conference, but the most amazing thing was the strong UNM representation. Of the twelve person council that organized the meeting, the President is David Trujillo, the President Elect is Jennifer Gomez-Chavez from UNM, and I’m the Secretary. Not only that, UNM-Taos was the third most highly represented institution at the conference. In addition to Mr. Trujillo and myself, we had five additional staff members attending: Patricia Gonzales, our Student Affairs Director; Bella Rodriguez, Advisor; Diego Trujillo, head of the CASA Tutoring Program; Rosina Chaparro, Financial Aid Officer; and Dr. Jessica Hernandez-Guzman, HSI STEM Grant recipient.”

I asked Bringas why it was important for so many people to attend the conference.

I think it’s even more relevant for us than other institutions because we get more out of it. We are geographically secluded, we have a smaller population, and we might not have the same level of financial, human and professional development that some of the big, four year universities have. Moreover, Taos County has roughly 75 percent Hispanic population, and UNM-Taos has anywhere from 60 percent to 67 percent Hispanic enrollment. There have been studies showing that Hispanic students come with a different cultural perspective, a different approach to life and a different set of priorities that can contribute to a disconnect in college. Going to conferences like these not only shows us where we can improve but also helps us to learn and adapt to programs that have already been proven to work elsewhere. It also reassures us that we’re in there with the big dogs and we are holding our own.

But most important, HSI grants provide capacity building to community colleges. To me, capacity building means being able, with minimal resources, to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. It means the difference between being Hispanic serving versus Hispanic enrolling.

The intent of these grants is not, ‘here’s some money, now go buy a lot of stuff’. On the contrary, it’s more like startup funds for a business. The grants address specific needs, and challenge us that, at the end of the granting period, the program is running so well that success rates, graduation rates and retention rates are improving and we’re doing faculty and professional development so that the programs are running on their own. In other words, our challenge is really to make them part of our educational culture. To that end we give a performance report every year to show what we’ve done with the money and what its effect has been. It’s an investment in our institution, our faculty and staff, and the ultimate beneficiary is, of course, our entire student body.

We are really fortunate to have someone like David Trujillo who has such vast experience in Title V. We are able to hit the ground running the minute a grant comes in, putting the money to work and building capacity. What would be missing of we didn’t have these resources? We’d have one advisor for 1,700 students. We would have to combine our tutoring and developmental studies programs. We would have two empty portable buildings instead of a library and fully functional space for professional training and peer-to peer tutoring. We wouldn’t have the computer technology in CASA, or the professional development programs.

In Washington I attended, along with 3,000 others, the Department of Education conference for directors of all the federal grants. It was clear that ‘best practices’ was shifting to a more realistic ‘high impact practices’ with an emphasis on being more efficient and effective with diminishing funding, and developing a strategy of data driven decision making. Data is not subjective. Data is black and white, and UNM-Taos has many things to be proud of. Anyone can take the data and manipulate it, or take pieces of the data to serve their own needs, but if you look at the whole picture, the data tells an undeniable story.

We deplore the low graduation rates, particularly in community colleges. This is not something that is happening in a vacuum in our little community. It’s a nationwide issue and we are aggressively addressing it at UNM-Taos. According to a survey by experts in their field Dr. Andres Salazar and Melissa Salazar, UNM-Taos is actually ahead of the national average for Hispanic graduation. We’re far from satisfied, but we are dealing with it a little better than most.

Anyone that has something different to say about UNM-Taos should examine our track record, not just with Title V but with Accelerate, Perkins, CAMP, Upward Bound for science and math, and the UNM-Taos Upward Bound grant for Veterans—incidentally, the only one granted in the state.

We’re ahead of the curve.”

About The Bill Knief