Each year the arrival of the Fastest Growing Community Colleges edition of Community College Week is cause for excitement. It uses the most current comparative statistics (Fall 2011-12) from IPEDS, the federal government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, to analyze trends in two and four year college enrollment, and recognizes those colleges that have experienced the greatest percentage of growth.

This year, UNM-Taos ranked 17th in a field of 350 two-year public colleges across the nation with enrollment of less than 2,500 students. While colleges of this size dropped an average of 2.9 percent and enrollment in private, for-profit institutions declined more than 8 percent, UNM-Taos enrollment increased a remarkable 14.7 percent.

So what’s so different about UNM-Taos? Referencing a well-known children’s story, Executive Director Kate O’Neill said, “We’re the little college that could. In other words, we try harder, and make up for what we lack in size by applying best practices to everything from fiscal responsibility to the quality of our adjunct and full time faculty, who possess a higher rate of advanced degrees than most college and university faculties.”

This spring semester alone, enrollment increased nearly 10 percent over last year, and fall semester saw an all time high of 1,857 students. Many are first generation college students. Fifty-seven percent are female, and ethnicity closely parallels the general population of Taos County: Hispanics make up 60 percent, Anglos 29 percent, and Native Americans over 5 percent. Even though every semester we see more first time students just out of high school, the student body’s average age is still above 30 years.      

“Education is the great equalizer,” O’Neill said. With the support of elected officials in the state legislature, UNM-Taos will continue to maintain a presence on the national stage while providing quality, affordable education for all who seek it.

(Published in the Taos News on Thursday, Feb. 27)