Letter to the Editor: The Failing Mil Levy May Bring to Light What is Needed at UNM-LA

By RICHARD SAUNDERS
Los Alamos

Shame, Mr. Soran? Why is there any amount of shame for this community for failing to pass the UNM-LA mill levy? We are indeed a town built on higher education, so one should expect this town to make decisions with higher thinking.

Higher thinking requires collecting some data. UNM-LA tuition is a mere 30 percent of tuition at UNM Main Campus. UNM-LA tuition is 56 percent of Northern New Mexico College. Los Alamos also boasts one of the highest per capita scores for individuals with doctoral degrees, and the most recent US Census states that 63.9 percent of our adults aged 25 and over already hold a bachelor’s degree.

Looking at these points of data, I see certain glaring issues. Our tuition could easily be raised to help fund the programs we offer. I’d like to help the next generation earn their higher education as I was given help in achieving my own. But it wasn’t given to me without both effort and cost. My semesters at UNM-LA were incredibly affordable and most classes provided high quality instruction. But UNM-LA has been tailored to fit a town that is not present in this county. We have a very low population of those seeking Associate’s Degrees, and even fewer looking to complete the small number of Bachelor degree programs offered by UNM-LA.

We live in an age where countless students are completing their degrees online, from Associates degrees to Doctoral degrees, in nearly every field imaginable. Some schools are very costly, others are not. One thing that remains true of all these online programs is that the population they reach far surpasses the geography of their physical location. All these schools find qualified faculty, often from around the country, to teach their programs. Don’t we have enough qualified professionals here to try to assemble something greater, something that doesn’t require continual assistance to exist?

Perhaps instead of shaming the community for failing to pay for minor improvements on a small community college we should be asking the community stakeholders how we can transform UNM-LA from catering to a meager population into an exciting educational environment that offers students from around the country and even the world the opportunities that only Los Alamos can provide. We have a small, safe community that continually cries out for local businesses, but who will work those businesses? Our own high school graduates leave town despite the best college jobs being right here at the laboratory.

Why don’t we work to create partnerships where UNM-LA offers cooperative programs that offer both local and non-local graduates opportunities to work at the lab while going through a complete college program? Why don’t we offer our laboratory retirees opportunities to educate and mentor the next generation, creating such a rich learning environment that hundreds of students move to Los Alamos to learn, and then in turn provide rental income to landlords and a labor pool for our small businesses?

If we want to see this community offer more amenities for shopping and entertainment, we have to cater to those who will work those jobs. Few will leave their LANL, LANB, or County job to work at a bowling alley or new hotel. We must bring in a steady stream of those who are willing to work those jobs if we want those businesses to survive. High rent is only half the equation for our local small businesses failing to thrive, they need reliable employees as well.

Small towns all across the Midwest offer higher education, often at higher costs than we pay at UNM-LA. If these communities that are no larger than Los Alamos can attract students to pay higher tuitions and live in areas surrounded by soybean and cornfields rather than our beautiful mountains, then UNM-LA needs to step up their game in order to attract these students! I don’t blame UNM-LA for failing to do so, our community has learned to rely on LANL to pay for all our changes, and if LANL can’t justify it, the County Council steps in. I’ve never seen a community rely so heavily on the federal and local government to not just assist, but PROVIDE, for amenities for entertainment and shopping.

Rather than casting shame on the community for failing to pass the mil levy, we should be looking for a way to make UNM-LA more attractive and accessible. Money doesn’t solve all things, but money thrown to a school that is failing to draw a steady stream of customers is money that won’t assist future generations, just the next few years before more is needed.

I, for one, am willing to sacrifice to create a better learning environment for our youth at the high school seeking dual credit opportunities and young adults looking to jump start their careers, but I’d be highly wary of someone whose only offer of assistance is monetary. I’d take 10 hardworking people who want to make a difference before taking $1.5 million that is taken by the government and supplied to the college “on behalf of the community.”

If UNM-LA needs help in creating more attractive academic programs due to a lack of staffing, I beseech UNM-LA to tell us what knowledge and skills can be provided to achieve these goals.

A healthy UNM-LA can begin making the changes to this town so many people cry out for, but throwing money at any institution will not bring about the changes we desire. Our County Council is evidence: we have let them spend millions and yet our community has changed in appearance only.

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