Higher education — a sprawling affair

Lauren Williams's picture

When state Sen. John Arthur Smith speaks, people listen — and that includes the rest of the Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez. A Democrat from Deming, Smith is a respected voice on fiscal matters and serves as vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

That he has taken the trouble to write to Gov. Martinez about concerns with the financial state of Northern New Mexico College should alert its supporters. That would include students, faculty and staff, not to mention the people of Española and greater Rio Arriba County. The college, whether in its two- or four-year form, is an economic driver in Northern New Mexico. Not only does it provide jobs, but the degrees students obtain mean better wages and salaries, all of which help the economy. Founded in 1909 as a Normal school that trained teachers, the college has been opening the doors to opportunity for more than 100 years.

However, Smith’s letter — which also addresses how the state delivers higher education — is worth paying attention to. Northern, which transformed itself from a two-year college to a four-year, degree-granting institution in 2005, is financially stressed. Smith is quite clear: He is concerned “with the institution’s future, especially because of its recently expanded four-year mission and limited financial resources. I would like to see whether partnering with a more established university system would better serve students and more efficiently use state resources.”

Despite saying that, Smith told the Rio Grande Sun in an interview that he doesn’t think a partnership would work: “It does not have much to sell as a partner.” He thinks the college might need to be taken over or revert to a two-year institution.

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