Rooney: Education Makes A Difference


Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to represent UNM-Los Alamos at numerous events. When invited to speak, it is easy for me to talk about the important role that UNM-LA plays in our community. Yet, it is even more rewarding to listen. At one event, a retiree told me about how her professional career at LANL was re-invented after she decided to take a biology class at UNM-LA and then took “every class offered by Dr. Leslie Dendy.”

At another event, I spoke with a former student and her current employer who both started their accounting careers with accounting classes at UNM-LA. I also spoke with a former LAHS student who completed her Bachelor’s degree at UNM in less than four years because of the head start that she received with Dual Credit classes, saving her the cost of one semester of college and getting her into her chosen career five months earlier.

One day, while attending meetings at UNM in Albuquerque, a former UNM-LA student stopped me to share that, after finishing his Associate’s Degree in EMS at UNM-LA, he is now in medical school at UNM. And, at the Community Internship Collaboration celebration in December, one of the participating LAPS students shared that this dual credit program has “literally changed his life.” Education makes a difference in the lives of individuals and the community it serves.

UNM-LA has positive momentum currently with several local collaborations. UNM-LA is currently increasing the pipeline for employees at LANL, specifically in electro-mechanical technology and environmental technology. Work continues with the Los Alamos High School related to dual credit programs and the Los Alamos Early College and Career Academy. The Community Internship Collaboration program, which involves UNM-LA, LANL, LANS, LAHS, and numerous local businesses and organizations continues to place UNM-LA and LAHS students in project-based learning opportunities. Through close coordination with the Los Alamos County Fire Department, successful Fire Science and EMS programshave been developed.  Most recently, discussions with Los Alamos Medical Center, Aspen Ridge, and others,have helped develop new Personal Care Attendant and Certified Nursing Assistant programs. Three UNM-LA professors also have obtained community support for recent NSF grant proposals related to cybersecurity, environmental technology, and innovations in teaching math courses.

While other colleges and universities in New Mexico are experiencing declining enrollments, the enrollment at UNM-LA is increasing. Per statistics from the New Mexico Higher Education Department (HED), UNM-LA had the highest rate of growth in head count from Fall 2014 to Fall 2015, with a growth rate of 12 percent. Unofficial numbers show that enrollment at UNM-LA is up 9 percent again this fall. The number of students from Los Alamos High School continues to increase, including 299 LAHS students who enrolled in dual credit classes during the last academic year.

The most significant challenge faced by UNM-LA is funding. Even though enrollment is up, and tuition rates have increased an average of 6 percent over the past nine years, tuition does not cover the entire cost of education. While private colleges rely heavily on donations, state and community colleges typically obtain support from government sources. UNM-LA is funded separately from UNM by the state, and receives no financial support from UNM in Albuquerque. State funding has been decreasing over the past several years, most severely last year, with even more decreases expected in the next few years.

In 1980, with the creation of UNM-LA, the voters of Los Alamos approved a 1 mil tax levy. While other New Mexico communities have passed additional mils to support their local colleges, the Los Alamos mil rate for the college remains at 1 mil. In 2013, there was an election for an additional 2 milfor UNM-LA that failed by 246 votes. The January 2017 election is a request for only an additional 1 mil. For voters with property values listed below $300,000 on the Los Alamos County Assessor’s records, the increase in annual property taxes would be less than $100. (Several individuals have asked about how to determine the impact on their individual taxes. Taxpayers should look at their current property tax bills. Look for the item listed “college” or “UNM-LA” which will show a rate of slightly less than 1 mil. Then look to the right column to see the tax amount. Since the current mil rate for the college is 1 mil, the amount listed would be the same as the proposed increase to each taxpayer.)

If passed, the additional funds will be used to help UNM-LA restore, continue, and expand programs for this community. For example, vacant faculty positions in the areas of engineering and computer science could be restored with additional funding. Dual credit programs, that are severely underfunded yet serve a valuable purpose, could continue and expand. And the development of new programs needed by the community could continue, without reliance on specific grant funding.

In early January, ballots will be mailed to Los Alamos voters with two questions. The first question will be related to the issuance of bonds to support building projects for Los Alamos Public Schools.  The second question will be for the mil levy to support UNM-LA operations. Ballots must be returned by Jan. 24.

This January election provides the opportunity for voters in Los Alamos to support education in our community. I have seen the difference that UNM-Los Alamoshas made in the lives of students. I believe that the college makes Los Alamos a better community. I appreciate the opportunities that higher education has provided to me and I am committed to helping UNM-LA provide that opportunity to others. I believe in the power of education.