[Editor's Note: Because several sessions took place the first and second days of the meeting, this will be a multi-part series of articles.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The first presentation, which can be viewed at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/38854-interim-legislative-science-technology-and-telecommunications-committee-meets-in-silver-city-082317-part-1 , was led by Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard, Vice President of External Affairs Magdaleno Manzanares and Provost and Executive Vice President Jack Crocker.
After their comments, Interim Legislative Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee members asked questions.
Rep. Bill McCamley made the first comment. "I've noticed your Wi-Fi is iffy in here."
"What role does the brick and mortar campus have in the future of the place as a university?" he asked.
Shepard replied: "If you go over to the corner by the window, where there used to be magazines and newspapers, there are going to be computers there."
"What we are asking for is money on capital outlay or GO bonds that can also be used for infrastructure," he continued. "Why would I invest in landscaping if I didn't want the campus to be inviting?"
He noted that the University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University had shored up their campuses, even though most of their students are online.
"The conversation we are having in New Mexico right now is why we have 31 boards of regents for our community colleges, colleges and universities in New Mexico," Shepard said. "If both WNMU and NMSU offer the MBA online, why? If I thought simply about education, it wouldn't make sense, but universities are cultural hubs. We provide more than just classes. We have concerts, lectures. It offers a sense of belonging. Some students live in the dorms and are 100 percent online in their classes. We have to create a college experience. One out of two of our students is older than 24 years of age. One out of two is a first-generation student. If we want to be relevant, is has to be in the future of technology. We're looking at rural education and rural health. We are looking to be prepared for the next 20 years. It's a balance of brick-and-mortar and technology."
McCamley said a student needs at least a technical certificate to get a good job. "We have looked at college as a rite of passage."
Shepard said the cost of the University of Phoenix courses is three times that of Western. "Why?"
McCamley suggested it was because of advertising.
Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard said Crocker had made a statement about bringing along veteran professors because of a whole new model. "Are there pedagogical pieces that will develop the student online? There are a lot of components to make distance learning important. How are you bringing them and what is the response?"
Crocker noted that 75 percent of Western's faculty has been at the university for 10 to 20 years. "Most are tenured. We are facing a paradigm shift. It became obvious we had to increase enrollment, so it has been a deliberate strategy to go mostly online."
He said Donna Rees of Extended University, who oversees the learning centers, had moved Western more online. She has brought on new hires and established online development. "Quality matters. It's been a process of change to be successful.
Rep. Jason Harper said, through his research, he found Western has 2,500 undergrads and 500 graduate students on campus. "Is that a thumbnail of what the university looks like?"
Shepard said what the university looks like, one can see at Little Toad Brewery downtown. "You can see the university at the top of the hill, and many think it is a university town. Of the 2,500 students you cite, about 2,000 are on campus, and about 1,000 are above 24 years of age. Many of those have families and jobs, so they don't live on campus. Of all those, we end up with about 1,000 attending classes here and the rest are online. Three hundred of those on campus are athletes. We are far smaller from the student physical presence. Overall, New Mexico student population is down to 2008 levels. We've managed to stay fairly flat. We have had to do shifting in marketing. Social work is one of our largest programs. And we put about 48 through the nursing program each year. Our science building is outdated. We are trying to stay current. I argue one of our best programs is science. We have three million acres of laboratory in the Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness. We also have faculty members who deeply care about our students. After graduation, our students go on to great graduate programs, such as Stanford. You have to remember, we are an open access university, so anyone can attend. We do not require the ACT or SAT. One out of two of our students is remedial. I, as president, still teach remedial math. We take that student and graduate him or her to be competitive."
Harper said: "It is silly that you cannot use capital outlay to purchase a microscope or other expensive equipment. We don't want you to use capital outlay to purchase something that has only three to four years of life, such as computers. I do think broadband and fiber optic is a good capital investment."
Sen. Ron Griggs said he had recently attended a conference in Seattle. He said he thought things Shepard had brought up would be challenging "to us as a society. The bricklayer will be obsolete. We will be able to use 3-D printers to build buildings. Minimum wage jobs will be gone. At the SeaTac Airport, the McDonald's had only cashiers and kiosks. As we move forward with education, if we are pushing students away from the ability to pay for the education, what do we do? Now we can take the advantage of using technology. We can get it now and be ahead."
Griggs noted that AT&T is looking at wireless broadband, and not relying on fiber. "We can get in today, but the change is tomorrow. How do we get in today and be in the right place? Now an accountant has to have a masters' degree to be a CPA. In nursing, it's hard to hire when the job demands more education and therefore more compensation. Technology is taking over from people being able to do jobs. Where are we going and how do you want to get there? What about students who don't want to go to college?"
"We have to jump in somewhere," Shepard said. "We are at an opportunity. I don't want to talk about the need to take action. We must take action. Inaction will create its own consequences. Do we invest in drone education? We're doing that. Soon there will be privacy issues and policy implications, with drones looking into your backyard. It's the same with robotics. In 2015, we had already created self-awareness in robots. If we are educating welders, what if there are no jobs? We are trying to predict what the future will hold. It's why we want to be a liberal arts and sciences university to teach our students to be not just good thinkers, but critical thinkers."
Griggs said: "As fast as things are moving, I think you're doing a good job on putting things in the right spots. How much can we justify spending on infrastructure? I'm pleased you're mentoring third graders. It's a great thing to get them on the road to be good citizens."
Sen. Nancy Rodriguez thanked the university personnel "for enlightening us. On the master's degree in social work, I think it has to do with the need that is so great, that they see there will be jobs, because of criminality, domestic violence and child abuse."
"I think job availability is important," Crocker said. "Many of our social work students are from out of state. They saw that our out-of-state tuition is less than their in-state tuition would be. They saw the value, but they also saw the convenience. If they lived in Arizona or California, they can sign an agreement with a local agency to be an intern. We have a large program in criminal justice, too. I think that need will continue."
Shepard said it was a matter of supply and demand. "The school of education enrollment is declining, but social work is increasing. Our out-of-state tuition is better than many in-state tuitions."
Sen. Mark Moores said it may be cheaper for a New York student to attend Western, "but New York taxpayers are not subsidizing that student. Educating a student from New Mexico or from New York, the cost is the same. It's depriving New Mexicans of higher education. Yes, we have to skate to where the puck is going to be, but we must make sure we're helping students in Jal or Deming. How much are we subsidizing the students? I think it's about two-thirds the cost."
Shepard said the average is about $15,000 cost for a student. As far as the New Yorker, he is probably spending $9,000 to $10,000 and New Mexico is subsidizing probably $6,000 of that.
He noted that the national average cost of salary to hire a Ph.D. straight out of university is $140,000. "We pay $90,000 to $100,000 for that Ph.D. That New York student is paying a higher amount, so I can afford to pay more for that faculty member. The second benefit is that within the classes, New Mexico students get ideas from outsiders. The question for me is the appropriate balance."
"WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) was created, so not every university has to be the same," Moores said. "I don't see many differences among our seven New Mexico universities. We need to keep things in balance. We can't afford to educate those who will just go back home."
Shepard emphasized that Western is also a center of culture for the community and an active part of the community.
The next article will address challenges of remote education.