WNMU to stay in T or C

Written by Benjamin Fisher on June 6, 2017

Thanks to a collaboration between Western New Mexico University, local government and a state legislator, it looks like Truth or Consequences will keep services from WNMU after all.

Concerned by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s surprise veto of all funding from the New Mexico Higher Education Department and facing an insecure state budget in coming years, the WNMU Board of Regents approved a measure to save money by closing three learning centers. At the time, the WNMU administration said these centers — in Gallup, Lordsburg and Truth or Consequences — had shown steep declines in face-to-face class enrollment in recent years as students shifted to the university’s growing online course list.

District 38 Rep. Rebecca Dow was concerned that WNMU’s withdrawal from Sierra County would be detrimental to the community, so set to work connecting WNMU administration and the Truth or Consequences city manager and Sierra County manager to come up with a solution.

In the end WNMU agreed to continue providing instruction and leave their equipment in place at the Gardner Education Center in T or C but will no longer be funding the operation. That will be the responsibility of the local communities, like the city of Truth or Consequences, which will hire the administrative staff and keep the lights on.

“This is a great public-public partnership with the city,” said WNMU President Joseph Shepard.

This way, WNMU will hold onto some of the savings it made by cutting funding to the center but continue to serve the students who do still attend class there.

According to WNMU Marketing Director Abe Villarreal, just 47 students attended face-to-face courses at the Truth or Consequences center in the last semester. And, he said most of those were not full-time students, but just taking a class or two. That represents a huge drop from just a few years ago, he said.

“The face-to-face classes are going to require at least 10 students to hold,” Dow said. “So, we will have to do a better job recruiting.”

For that, she said there is a plan to begin working closely with the local school districts to strengthen the dual enrollment numbers.

But a visitor to the Gardner Education Center will soon have more options than just those courses — including business, education, GED prep, among others — offered by WNMU. Dow said the local office of New Mexico Workforce Connection plans to move into the building as well. And, she said she has reached out to business incubators statewide to help flesh out the center’s services.

“It was never Western’s sole responsibility to fund every one of these sites,” Dow said. “I am grateful, though. Western filled a huge need when we did not have the human capacity to fill the center. But, I think this is closer to what these learning centers were intended to be.”

Dow said the center only had to lay off one secretary. The instructors and previous manager of the center will stay on.

“So, a little loss, but tremendous gain,” Dow said.

Shepard gave kudos to Dow for her work on the project.