Dear community members,
In light of the changes Northern New Mexico College has undergone in the past year, I want to take this opportunity to clarify some of the recent decisions made at the College. It is true that Northern has experienced both successes and difficulties. Just as we celebrate our victories, we must also acknowledge areas where we have fallen short.
I understand that some are questioning the stability of the institution. Given recent publicity, I can understand how one might raise such questions, but I also recognize that much of the concern has been based on inaccurate information and misunderstanding. This contributes to an atmosphere that runs contrary to the best interests of our students, our region and the progress we are making as a college. I embrace transparency and communication as part of my accountability to the community. I understand, however, that my openness about the College’s financial problems, many of which predate my tenure, creates a perception that such troubles began with my arrival.
When I took the reins, my charge was to nurture the accomplishment of Northern becoming a four-year comprehensive institution. Meeting the financial demands of transitioning to a four-year college that meets the needs of northern New Mexico is still a challenge we face today. This required hiring more full-time and doctoral level faculty, providing better student support services and creating structures within the college that ensure we continue the progress we have made in managing our finances.
As you may know, the College was placed on fiscal watch in 2007 in response to problems in its financial oversight. We have since carried out a financial recovery plan that included the completion of two past-due audits in ten months and the timely submission of the FY12 and FY13 audits. Also, for the first time in three years, the institution’s budget was approved for 2012 and approved again in 2013.
Despite our limited budget, we have been successful in increasing services for our students. For example, we developed the College’s first comprehensive Advisement Center last year, focusing on first-year retention, and began requiring every student to meet with an advisor before they register. Our work with lawmakers has yielded funding for an internal security department and renovation of the student game room, research laboratories, Student Senate chambers and the library. Our efforts to enhance quality of service also include hiring highly credentialed faculty from across the country. Each of these efforts were based on concerns faculty, staff and students have raised via ongoing discussions.
Last year, the Board of Regents charged the administration with the review of academic programs. We considered the College’s core mission, program enrollment, graduation rates and employment outlook for graduates. Based upon this analysis and with the assistance of an independent auditor and a committee comprised of faculty and staff, I recommended that three programs be discontinued in the upcoming year. These programs are Construction Management, Automotive Technology and Radiology. Please note that Construction Management does not include trades such as plumbing, electricity or welding. Considering the closure of any program is a difficult and unfortunate task, but one that is sometimes necessary in order to preserve our College. Rest assured that for students already enrolled in these programs, the College will continue to provide the necessary courses, resources and support services needed to complete their degree.
I respect that the automotive program plays a vital role in an art form unique to northern New Mexico. Therefore, we intend to explore the possibility of offering Automotive Technology as a continuing education program. Student feedback has shown that this model is a current success for the College’s Spanish Colonial Furniture program in El Rito.
We are still committed to providing associate degrees and certificates in the trades and helping students obtain their GED. We are also working to find solutions to student and community concerns, including affordability, access, workforce needs and academic quality. We revisited the impact of raising costs and consequently, beginning this summer, the College is implementing a community rate for studio arts courses. The new rate of $100 per credit hour is available to part-time, non-degree seeking students. There will be no tuition increase this year, despite the State encouraging us to explore the option in order to align with other comprehensive institutions.
We anticipate that housing will be available on our main campus next Fall, which will allow us to grow our enrollment, provide a better experience for our students and enrich the local economy. Campus housing will also accommodate Rio Arriba students who live too far for a daily commute. Currently, we are the only four-year institution in New Mexico that does not have a residence hall. Eventually, our hope is also to provide family housing for students with children.
Although we have done much to increase communication, I know we can do better. This was clear when 45 percent of full-time faculty expressed a vote of no confidence in the administration. Regardless of how people feel about myself, the current leadership, or recent decisions, the College’s reputation is something we all take part in. I believe that shared governance prompts the need for shared responsibility. Issues of quality instruction, retention and graduation rates are also an integral part of the faculty’s role.
Increasing our enrollment is a critical way the College can remain viable. Sadly, misinformation and attacks obstruct opportunities to have civil conversations to address these important issues. This ultimately harms our community relationships and our ability to serve students. I believe fundamentally that we all care about the future of Northern and although we may disagree on solutions, taking the time to find common ground goes a long way towards improving working relationships.
Despite doubts, there have also been many who have shared support for the direction I have taken the College. All input is valid, and I remain optimistic that we can move forward together. It will require all of us: the Board, students, faculty, staff and you, the community, to make Northern what this region deserves.
My thanks to all who support us. You bring much needed hope during this difficult time. I welcome critique and demand for accountability, but also encourage each of you to evaluate information in order to make sound judgments. Together, we have the power to make Northern New Mexico College great, for the sake of our students.
Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barceló