On April 26, 0214, the NNMC Board of Regents voted to uphold the recommendations of NNMC President Nancy “Rusty” Barceló and her Executive Team, cutting the college’s Career Tech programs that included Automotive, Construction Trades and Radiologic Technology programs. These cuts also meant removing several tenured and tenure-track professors, instruction and program staff. Hundreds of members of NNMC and the larger public called, wrote, emailed and attended NNMC Board meetings in an effort to convince the Board that the budget that increased Administrative spending and salaries while cutting student services and instruction would have a lasting negative impact.
After the Board voted for all cuts recommended by Barceló and her Executive Team, Chair of the NNMC Board of Regents Rosario “Chayo” Garcia ended the April 26th meeting in tears, voice wavering. After collecting herself Garcia concluded, “I love this college; I love this community. And I’m afraid what’s happened the last few days will start an avalanche we’re not going to be able to control.”[i]
Chair Garcia was prescient—since the vote, Northern has seen several lawsuits filed by former employees, has lost a multimillion dollar federal grant, has been found in violation of a separate federal grant, has been investigated by the American Association of University Professors, has seen a rash of faculty resignations, has aggregated over 750 signatures in a petition against its 2014-2015 proposed budget, has short-paid its adjunct faculty after being unable to meet its basic operating expenses at the end of the fiscal year, and has lost attempts at a bond measure to build a no-bid $13-16 million dorm.
The out of control avalanche predicted by Chair Garcia is also seen in Northern’s fall enrollment, which shows an unprecedented and massive decline. NNMC’s Registrar Kathleen Sena reports fall enrollment as low as 400 full-time equivalent (FTE) students. This is over a two-thirds loss in FTE students since 2011 when FTE enrollment was at 1,254.[ii]
This month, Vice President of Institutional Advancement Ricky Serna took the extraordinary measure of over-riding the College’s financial disenrollment deadline (the date by which students are dropped for non-payment). Serna directed financial aid and admissions officers to ignore the disenrollment deadline for hundreds of students though they had not paid tuition and/or fees or otherwise made payment arrangements. Serna’s attempt to keep enrollment numbers up is telling of the desperation NNMC Administrators are feeling. Indeed, at the August 14th “Board Retreat,” Provost Pedro Martinez plainly stated, “We have to increase enrollment. No matter what.” VP of Advancement Serna echoed those remarks explaining, “We need more students to enroll period. We need to double the size of the institution.”[iii] Regent Powers disagreed with President Barceló, who was determined to argue that the enrollment decline was simply part of a statewide trend. “We stand out in the crowd,” corrected Regent Powers, “Our enrollment declines are very dramatic.”
President Barceló and the Board met for over three hours discussing the increasingly empty campus. Although Chair Garcia and Board Member Herrera made the case for the very Career Tech programs they cut just months ago, Board Member Branch reaffirmed his belief that the program and faculty cuts were wise. He explained that after asking for (and getting) hundreds of millions of dollars from the New Mexico Legislature to build state-of-the-art Automotive facilities, the efforts and money were ultimately worthless, “Do you need an AA to work at Jiffy Lube?” asked Branch.
Regarding low registration numbers, Regent Powers (whose son is enrolled at NMSU) and Provost Martinez (whose son is enrolled at Santa Fe Community College) both complained about the lack of sophistication of NNMC students. Pointing to late enrollment, Martinez complained, “Procrastination is part of the culture itself.” He also explained that retention rates were low because, “We get students who can’t do fractions. We have a large population of students… with certain deficits.” Chair Garcia agreed with Martinez adding, “They’re not mature enough.”
As watchers of Northern expect, in the meeting as with most, all roads lead to the issue of dorms. Regent Powers made a connection between declining enrollment and the lack of dorms at the Española campus. (The college has dorm facilities at the El Rito Campus, which have been more than adequate for for-profit summer conferences and the like). President Barceló’s Administration and the NNMC Board have tried for several years to push through a plan for a no-bid dorm project, which was most recently ignored by the New Mexico Board of Finance. (The Board of Finance found NNMC's proposal so lacking it did not bring funding NNMC’s dorm proposal up for vote).[iv]
Powers asked of the lack of Española campus dorms, “How much is it impacting enrollment?” The answers by NNMC Administrators were shockingly disparaging of both the Española Valley and NNMC students—perhaps because members of the public were not present. The assembled leaders of the college argued that for NNMC to survive it needed to move beyond the local community, recruiting from outside the Valley and out of state. They argued that outside-influence was critical to the success of local students.
“We have students who are sheltered by the valley. We’re not diverse... we’re homogenous,” noted VP of Advancement Serna. Board member Branch added that without dorms filled with out-of staters, there is no student life, just locals who "Go from class to car... Who do I meet? We know each other anyway.” Branch, a resident of Santa Fe, added it is unwise to recruit students into Española without dorms to separate them from the local community because of “certain social problems.” Provost Martinez further explained NNMC needs out-of staters to edify local students, “Our students are very provincial. Some of our students have never been out of the county.”
Agreeing with these assessments, Regent Powers declared, “We have to be sure this student housing thing gets placed high up in the priority list.” Regent Powers, appointed by Republican Governor Susana Martinez, attacked the New Mexico Board of Finance for not allowing NNMC a bond to fund the dorm project. Governor Martinez sits on the Board of Finance and was critical of the NNMC dorm plan at the July Board of Finance meeting.[v] Regent Branch asserted of Legislators who have refused to approve the no-bid dorm project, “We haven’t been treated properly on this.” Amplifying Branch’s comment, Powers stated, “There’s injustice here. We need to try to expose it.” The NNMC Study Group wonders how Governor Martinez might respond to charges of injustice by her Republican appointee, Mr. Powers, not to mention the absolute silence of Republican Chair Chayo Garcia when these charges were made by Regent Powers.
President Barceló and the members of the NNMC Board (with the exception of Board member Donald Martinez, who did not attend the “Board Retreat”) have exhibited continued intransigence even with unprecedented low enrollment numbers that threaten the survival of the college. The “Board Retreat” neglected to acknowledge the assembled leaders’ role in the college’s decline and instead blamed and insulted the students of the Valley, Legislators, the New Mexico Board of Finance, and Governor Martinez. President Nancy "Rusty" Barceló and the members of the NNMC Board are running out of students to insult and critics to blame. As Chair Garcia predicted, Northern is now being crushed by the avalanche Barceló and the Board initiated.
[i] “NNMC Regents Approve Budget,” T.S. Last, Albuquerque Journal (27 April 2014). Available http://www.abqjournal.com/390393/news/nnmc-regents-approve-budget.html
[ii] “Northern Struggles with Retention, Enrollment Numbers,” Ralph Chapoco, The Rio Grande Sun (14 August 2014). Available http://www.riograndesun.com/articles/2014/08/14/news/education/doc53ebbb9fe442e550185678.txt
[iii] Audio of full “Board Retreat” available from below. The Board met as a quorum but did not give notice of their 4:00 to 7:45pm meeting as a public meeting, nor did they post the agenda of the meeting as required by the Open Meetings Act. The Board has not released the draft minutes of this meeting within 10 days as required by the Open Meetings Act.
[iv] See more at “NNMC Dorms: Indefinite Hold.” Available http://www.nnmcstudygroup.org/blog/nnmc-dorms-indefinite-hold
[v] The full New Mexico Board of Finance Meeting can be accessed http://governor-nm.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1557 (Northern New Mexico College’s presentation is the last of the day and begins at 5:37 and continues until the meeting adjourns at 6:21.)
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