A little over three years ago, the UNM West campus opened in Rio Rancho, N.M. With the greater Albuquerque metropolitan area continually growing, the campus was designed to make access to college classes at UNM more accessible to students in Rio Rancho, Bernalillo and surrounding areas. Since that time, UNM has worked to build strong, collaborative relationships with stakeholders in those communities.

One such program, the Special Education Dual License Program, within the UNM College of Education’s Department of Educational Specialties and Teacher Education Department, has been an important collaborative endeavor for more than 17 years on main campus preparing teacher candidates qualified to enter the elementary classroom and meet the inclusive needs of those students in the classroom.

The Dual License Program provides teacher preparation to COE students which leads to dual licensure in both Special Education (PreK-12) and Elementary Education (K-8). The program goal is to prepare teachers who can develop and implement evidence-based practices for a diverse population of students with and without disabilities across a full range of learning environments.

“It’s a highly valuable program,” said Professor and Chair Ruth Luckasson, Department of Educational Specialties. “Our students are hired very quickly, sometimes before they even graduate. Now, we’ve made it possible for students to get almost the entire Dual License Program at UNM West. It’s the first UNM program to be able to say that.”

After being asked to expand and increase course offerings at the UNM West campus last spring, the Dual License Program has seen a successful integration between UNM West and main campus. COE has a full-time presence at the campus with the availability of Special Education faculty and advisement, offers some graduate level courses and is looking to add more graduate special education level courses to its curriculum.

During the course of the two-year undergraduate program, UNM students obtain practical experience via hands-on methods and strategies, while gaining valuable, real-life teaching skills spending two semesters student teaching in the classroom. An articulation of credits from the CNM associate’s degree to a UNM bachelor’s degree, called a 2+2, is enabling students to make the seamless transition. High school dual credit courses are also allowing students to begin earning credits for transfer to CNM and eventually UNM.

The campus itself increases access and reduces commuting for students in Rio Rancho, Bernalillo and the west side, and provides beautiful, well-equipped classrooms for teaching and learning. Approximately 75 students are currently taking classes in the Dual Licensure Program at UNM West.

“Our connection to UNM West and CNM West helps to ensure our programs are aligned,” Luckasson said. “It allows for meaningful collaborations and connections to school districts on the west side, including Rio Rancho Public Schools.”

Luckasson added that it’s long been a commitment for RRPS to help its educational assistants get degrees so they can become teachers. UNM’s presence in Rio Rancho makes it easier and allows EA’s to get their degree easier. The recruitment of new students also allows for workforce development on the west side. Special education teachers are in very high need in New Mexico.

“We’re doing our best to increase access to UNM West and to increase the numbers of students with access,” she said.

In addition to the College of Education, Anderson School of Management, and the College of Arts and Sciences, faculty and staff at UNM West look forward to the arrival of other programs including the EMS Academy, Dental Hygiene and Nursing from the Health Sciences Center beginning this fall.