By Bill Knief
You can’t really put a price on a person’s education, because its primary value is intangible: it opens doors of opportunity for a better income over a lifetime, certainly, but it can also open up one’s mind to personal growth and a world of possibilities which would otherwise be beyond the individual’s reach. On the societal level it is, in the words of Mayor Darren Cordova, “the engine that drives economic development.”
Then there is the bricks-and-mortar, real estate side of the question. Anyone who has been out to the 80 acre Klauer Campus in the past few years knows that the value of the modern facilities and infrastructure out there must easily run into the tens of millions of dollars. For the small number of inhabitants of one of the poorest counties in the nation to have accomplished so much in such a short period of time is truly phenomenal, and a source of well-deserved pride.
Nevertheless, after the recent overwhelming vote to renew Taos County’s Educational Gross Receipts Tax to support public, charter, and higher educational facilities, followed closely by Bond C for educational facilities improvements on the November 6 ballot, some citizens reasonably raise the question, “when is enough, enough?” Last week I asked Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill to comment, and she began with a short history lesson.
“In reality, we have been providing college classes since 1923 when the Harwood first began offering classes for credit,” she said. “Since the 1980’s we have had Highlands here, and Northern, and then UNM came in with an education center, and it wasn’t until 2003 that UNM-Taos became a full-fledged branch. So we are one of the two newest colleges in the state, along with Ruidoso. But at the same time we are one of the fastest growing colleges not only in the state but in the nation. This fall semester alone, we had a fifteen percent increase in enrollment.
“This is both the good news and the bad news. We are also noteworthy for having the second smallest number of square feet per student of any college in the state, and this hampers our ability to fully serve our students because we literally don’t have room for all of the educational opportunities we want and need to provide.”
O’Neill said that for many years UNM-Taos has had a policy of using facilities and forming partnerships throughout its service area.
“We are very careful about the kind of facilities that we build and maintain so that we can remain sustainable long into the future. For instance, we contract with local spas for our yoga, movement and dance classes instead of looking to build a gymnasium any time soon. We use the Taos Community Auditorium for the Fall Lecture Series and rely heavily on Holy Cross Hospital for our Nursing Program.
“We always try to be good neighbors and wise stewards of the taxpayer dollars we receive, and the statewide General Obligation Bond C is a key component in our future growth. Because it will not raise property taxes, the three million dollars it will bring to our campus is a net gain for Taos County.
“In the past, general obligation bonds have helped build out our Kids’ Campus and support core infrastructure at Klauer from water and sewer, telecommunications, paved parking lots and walkways, safety lighting, landscaping and drainage. This past summer we were able to repair damage and improve heating and cooling efficiency in Pueblo Hall.
“Future bonds will be used to improve ventilation in the art building so that we can offer oil painting classes, and provide for the best distance education facilities and equipment to keep up with demand for online courses. Our biology and chemistry labs are in great need of upgrading, and we need additional facilities and equipment for the green jobs training program for both academic and career tech areas. This is why I hope that citizens in Taos County and all across the state will carefully consider supporting General Obligation Bond C on November 6.”
As always, individuals and groups who would like to take a tour of your community college and see for yourself what UNM-Taos is all about should contact me at 770-1804 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.