UNM-LA working to meet today’s challenges

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By Jennifer Garcia

Hard economic times have affected millions of Americans, not to mention financial institutions and businesses.


Despite the struggle that many face, one Los Alamos institution is working to meet the needs of education today.


During Tuesday night’s county council meeting, UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page gave councilors a briefing on the state of the school.


Despite, or maybe because of, the recession the nation is facing, enrollment at UNM-LA is up 27 percent over the same period last year. In addition, student credit hours are up 16 percent.


UNM-LA has also seen an up tick in retention, with the fall to spring retention rate at 84 percent. “We’re very proud. This is the highest it’s ever been,” Page said. “We’re canceling fewer classes and we’re adding more online classes.”


Page said that in an effort to keep enrollment and retention numbers up, staff has added new degrees with emphasis in computer science technology and game programming.


“We’ve also added new e-learning opportunities and have provided faculty with training to teach online classes,” he added.


Page also told councilors that a new facilities and shop building opened last summer and he is looking at upgrading classrooms in buildings 5 and 6, as well as adding a larger lecture facility to those areas. In addition, student housing on 9th Street will also see upgrades in the fall.


Page served on the Human Capital Task Force and said the he received a number of recommendations regarding the four clusters of economy in Northern New Mexico. In an effort to prepare high school students for the work force, a program called Info Tech has been developed. The program involves a testing process that helps young people get ready for the work force by testing their skills. The results of the test let them know what skills they need to acquire to be assets to employers and businesses. “I’m excited about the opportunities that came out of the task force,” Page said.


Following his presentation, Page answered councilors’ questions.


Ralph Phelps began by telling Page that he gave a real upbeat talk. He then asked Page if there were any goals set for how many associate of arts degrees are awarded.


“We have data on what we’ve done. Applied Technology has limited its concentrations to 15 students. We expect to graduate 12 students after a 2-year course of study,” Page commented.


Councilor Vincent Chiravalle seemed pleased with the state of UNM-LA, but was curious about recruitment efforts by the school. “I’m pleased to hear that enrollment has gone up 27 percent. What sort of programs are in place for recruitment?”


“The end result is in where our students reside,” Page answered. “49 percent come from Los Alamos County. The remainder comes from Sandoval and Rio Arriba counties. Councilors go to high schools and talk to students. We also do direct calling.”


Page also said that he has gone out to meet with superintendents and principals and invites himself to high school graduations so that he can present graduating seniors with letters of acceptance to UNM-LA. In addition, councilors from the college also meet with families in an effort to help them fill out financial aid forms, the admissions application and other paperwork associated with attending college.


Chiravalle was also concerned with the funding sources for the dorm renovations. “Will you be seeking new funding sources for the renovations?” he asked.


“We’re looking at a number of sources. We need financing for the dorm upgrades, but we do have severance tax bond dollars. We will embark on a fundraising campaign for the $250,000 needed to match the bond money. Maybe some of the stimulus money will help,” Page responded.


Councilor Robert Gibson pointed out that their students who attended UNM-LA often had difficulties in transferring credits to UNM’s main campus. “Is there still a problem with transferability?” Gibson asked.


Page told Gibson there are no longer any transferability problems between the two campuses. “It’s been resolved. Faculty has worked with the faculty at main campus to make sure credits are transferable,” Page said.


Councilor Sharon Stover was curious about UNM-LA’s employee retention rate and asked Page if they’ve had any retention issues.


“We’ve had retirements in the past six months and we’ve had people move on to other employment opportunities. This has given us an opportunity to redefine positions and we have created hybrid positions,” Page said. He also mentioned that they have been able to reshape and reorganize the workforce at the college.


Concluding the questions posed by council, Chairman Michael Wheeler said, “UNM-LA is a huge contributor to the quality of life for our community. It’s very much appreciated by this council.”