By Bill Knief
This time of year the UNM-Taos campus is deceptively quiet. The summer session offers only about 60 courses serving a few hundred students. Parking, for once, is easy to find. Staff members try to get their annual leave in while there’s still time, knowing full well that within a month enrollment is going to go through the roof, with long lines of people needing advising, financial aid the cold hard facts of registering for the classes they need to complete their career and degree paths at the times that allow for work and family responsibilities.
In the words of the Director of Student Affairs, Patricia Gonzales, “It can get a bit zooy around here when we get close to the first day of classes.”
The first day of Fall Semester this year is August 18, which may seem like a long way off, but people interested in enrolling will be doing themselves a favor if they drop by Pueblo Hall on the Klauer campus or call the enrollment office at 737-6200 to start figuring out what they need to do to enroll. Last Fall, our student body rose to nearly two thousand students—an all-time high.
Funding a small, rural community college in an area that is isolated, sparsely populated, underserved and economically challenged is a full-time job in itself. Add to the mix that UNM-Taos was recently recognized as the 17th fastest growing community college of its size in the nation, and you’ve got a real problem on your hands. How do you stretch a budget to meet the needs of every student when most funding sources are currently either flat or decreasing? Our Executive Director decided that we could not, in good conscience, raise tuition this year even though our tuition rate, at $75 per credit hour, is one of the lowest in the country. So what is there to do?
One possibility is to look to grants as a source of funding, and UNM-Taos is fortunate to to have Grants and Special Initiatives Director David Trujillo on board. His latest successful grant proposal was for a HEP Grant, short for the federally funded High School Equivalency Program. It is designed to provide assistance to cohorts of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers to help them to be college-ready. It will generate $2.3 million over five years, $468,000 in year one alone, and provide for support services as well as an instructional and administrative team.
“We’re under the gun to provide a very high success rate,” Trujillo explained. “It’s a way of getting folks into college that wouldn’t ordinarily get there. That’s why there is so much money for support services—it funds everything a student needs to be successful: stipends to attend school, tutoring, instruction, testing, transportation to class, meals, books and supplies, academic advising, even child care if needed.
“We are committed to serving 75 students per year, and of those, 70 percent have to complete their GED in one year, and of those who get their GED, 80 percent have to either go on to college, a training program or gainful employment.”
In other words, of the initial cohort of 75 students, 53 of them must complete their GED in one year and of those, 42 must be college or workforce ready.
“It’s quite a challenge, but if you hit your marks and don’t mess up, the grant will keep getting funded. So far we’ve been lucky that way. We’ve done really well with Upward Bound and CAMP grants; we hit the numbers every year. Right now UNM-Taos and UNM-main campus have the only HEP grants in the state.
“The importance for the college is of course that students are better prepared. That helps everybody throughout the system, and helps people to get where they want to go in life. But in a broader sense, it’s also about economic development, and that’s always the agenda when the feds do grants; they look to get money out there to stimulate the economy. In this case, we’re doing that by trying to impact the poverty rate in our area.
“If you take three million dollars in grants and include the standard multiplier effect of 2.5, that represents 7.5 million in economic impact over five years. It’s jobs, people spending money, buying gas, buying food, supporting businesses. It’s all local, and it’s taxpayer dollars coming back to us; that’s how I see it.
“And just as economic impact can be measured in multipliers, when you effect the education of a family member, that, too, has a ripple effect. Before you know it their cousins and their grand kids are going to college, too, because of that one person. It happens all the time, and that’s what we are trying to do.“