Flying like an eagle in the north
Two-and-a-half years ago, I assumed the most challenging yet most rewarding position I have ever held, as the president of Northern New Mexico College in Española and El Rito. As I look back on our state’s most recent legislative session (and my third in this role), I am both grateful and optimistic.
We have a lot of pride in Northern New Mexico, where our cultural diversity, our beautiful lands, our reverence for family and tradition, and most importantly the corazón of our citizenry, are truly unparalleled.
We also have great pride in our institution. In just the last few years, we’ve seen growth in enrollment and nearly doubled our bachelor’s degree graduation rate. We crafted a strategic direction document, revised our faculty handbook for the first time in a decade, and completed successful renegotiations of collective bargaining agreements with faculty and staff for the first time since 2008.
Northern maintains the most affordable tuition and fees of any four-year college in the Southwest United States, the third-lowest average student debt upon graduation of any four-year college in the country, and the top-performing high school equivalency program in the nation for the second year in a row.
We are also the proud recipient of the 2019 Organization of the Year award from the Greater Española Valley Chamber of Commerce and the 2019 state STEMY award winner as the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Higher Education Institution of the Year.
As much as I relish the opportunity to brag about our institution, I know I am not alone. All over New Mexico, our universities and our independent and branch community colleges are doing outstanding work to provide access to quality, affordable higher education and career pathway opportunities. We should be proud of our higher-education institutions in the Land of Enchantment. They are all worthy of our praise and support.
Northern New Mexico College is at an inflection point. While we have made great strides in the last few years, our students, faculty and staff will probably echo the sentiment that the best is yet to come. We should celebrate the forward momentum we are enjoying but also use it to launch ourselves to even greater successes.
With the support of our legislators and our governor, Northern is now positioned to offer future programs in key vocational and technical career fields. We are engaged in an initiative called Up$tart, which aims to provide more federal and state aid funding for low-income students across the country. And we are excited about the creation of the Anna Age Eight Institute this summer, with the bold vision of tackling childhood and family trauma in every county in New Mexico.
To those who say that these ambitions are too lofty, I can’t help but recall the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
This small, unique college to the north is flying like an eagle. We invite you to come see for yourself. And I know I am speaking for our entire community when I say that we are just getting started.
Richard J. Bailey Jr., Ph.D. is president of Northern New Mexico College. He lives in El Rito.