By Bill Knief
Taking into account the downward trend in college and university enrollment across the nation in the last couple of years, UNM-Taos still continues to hold its own. On January 30, the official last day of Spring Semester 2015 enrollment, we were showing a respectable 1,608 students taking more than 12,000 credit hours.
Those figures are down only about four percent from Spring, 2014, but nothing like the precipitous decline experienced in other regions and at some New Mexico community colleges. The primary reason for the decline, experts say, is an improving national economy that is making jobs available for more Americans who might otherwise return to school to make themselves more competitive in the workforce, or continue their education while waiting for the job market to improve.
Other statistics show that UNM-Taos continues to serve the educational needs of all northern New Mexicans. As usual, more women than men are enrolled: 57.90 percent to 41.98 percent—another national trend. Ethnic breakdown closely resembles the demographic of Taos County, with 55.47 Hispanic, 31.41 White, 6.16 Native American and a scattering of other ethnicities.
Of these, there are 690 students who are non-degree seeking, including lifelong learners taking classes for personal enrichment, workforce and professional skills students, and concurrent students including Dual Credit and the Friday Early College Program.
In terms of degree seeking students, 93, or 5.78 percent of the student body, are working toward a one year certificate; 583, or 36.26 percent, are seeking two year associate’s degrees; and 188, or 11.69 percent, are working toward a bachelor level degree. One might be tempted to ask, particularly after trying to find a parking space in the middle of the day at Klauer Campus, where are we going to put all those students?
The answer is that we are building out the campus as quickly as we can. Brisk demand for higher education is going to continue for a long time to come, and after years of austerity budgets and a moratorium on new construction, there is some catching up to do. Take a drive out to your community college and you’ll see our latest major construction project, a 7,600 square foot addition and 7,200 remodel of Padre Martinez Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus and the first one you see when you drive up the main road.
Officially designated the University of New Mexico-Taos Student Success Center, the facility’s primary purpose is to centralize student services. By housing all student services under one roof, the college will be able to create an efficient and effective network of providers for the first time, and proactively support the recruitment, retention and graduation of students. More than three million dollars have been set aside for this major overhaul, and when completed it will serve as the “front door” of the campus.
Jim Pollard, the Director of Construction Management for the college, said that the project was essentially on time and should be ready for occupation in June, but choreographing the complicated project was quite a challenge.
“It takes a lot of coordination when you have four and five separate crews working at the same time. It’s like a Rubic’s Cube; you’ve got to figure out what crew three has to do to get out of the way of crew number two but be prepared for crew number four, all in real time. For instance this morning we have an electrical crew inside the old building, and a demolition crew cutting out windows and knocking off plaster to make the old building ready to be attached to the new construction. Then there’s a group of iron workers putting up the superstructure and roof deck, a framing crew and the fire suppression crew all on site this morning. Lonnie Clark, the construction superintendent for HB Construction, is in charge of the entire ballet, and he is confident he’ll be out of here in time for the big move into the new facilities this summer.”