Regents Report: Recruiting, Retention, Staffing, Swine Flu

SOCORRO, N.M. Sept. 25, 2009 – The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents heard updates about enrollment, retention, finances, personnel changes and the swine flu at the Tuesday, Sept. 22, meeting.

Personnel Changes

Board members congratulated vice president Dr. Ricardo Maestas, who was recently selected to be the president at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.

Individual board members and President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez praised Maestas for his service to New Mexico Tech during his five years in Socorro.

Lopez announced during the meeting that associate vice president Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming will take over as interim Vice President of Student and University Relations.

“At this time, an interim vice president is the right answer,” Lopez said. “For a number of different reasons, I thought Melissa would be the right choice.”

Regent Ann Murphy Daily said Jaramillo Fleming’s appointment is good news for New Mexico Tech.

“I feel a lot of confidence that the job is in very good hands,” she said.

Regent Jerry Armijo said selecting an interim vice president is the best decision, given the financial strains on the university and given the Regents’ focus on retention and recruiting.

“You’re intimately aware of our recruitment plan and it’s crucial we continue those efforts,” Armijo said.

Lopez said he would not set an expiration date on interim position; however, he said he would re-assess the situation in one year, at which point, he would reconsider opening a national search.

Hiring Freeze

Armijo asked how the hiring freeze is affecting faculty and instruction. Lopez and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Gerity said faculty members have been understanding and cooperative.

Currently, 11 faculty positions are vacant, which represents about 10 percent of available tenured positions, Lopez said.

“Faculty members have come to the trough and seen that it’s half empty,” Lopez said. “They don’t like it, but they understand. People know we are dealing with a difficult situation. Once faculty start teaching extra courses, it takes time away from dedicated research … if it goes on too long, it could hurt the quality of education at New Mexico Tech.”

Gerity said he meets regularly with academic department chairs to solicit recommendations about cost-cutting measures. He said the participatory method has been an effective method of approaching dwindling state funds.

“So far, we’ve held our own,” Gerity said. “As it wears on and on and resources run thinner, it’ll be harder to keep the wheels on.”

Recruiting

Jaramillo Fleming has overseen Tech’s revamped recruiting efforts. She and Dr. Lopez gave Regents the latest enrollment numbers. The undergraduate student body is 3 percent lower than last year, while graduate student enrollment is 2 percent ahead of last year.

“Keep in mind that we’re coming off a peak year,” Lopez said. “Last year was the highest enrollment we ever had.” 

New Mexico Tech staff recruiters, faculty, students and alumni are involved in a variety of recruiting activities.

The Admission Office is involved in an interactive online college fair and sending automated e-mails to prospective students. Two students – Regent William Villanueva and Omar Soliman – will represent New Mexico Tech at a college fair at the Albuquerque Convention Center in October.

New Mexico Tech is working with two-year colleges in the region to ease the transition for transfer students. The university has also created a staff position for recruiting veterans, largely considered to be a demographic that would excel at Tech.

Jaramillo Fleming also hosted a work session with Tech professors who are also Tech alums to discuss student concerns and recruitment.

In addition to standard recruiting expeditions, Tech recruiter Allison Costello has regular meetings with high school students at coffee shops in Albuquerque, which have proved to be effective.

The recruiting effort is also aimed at the finer details. With Dr. Lopez’ support, Jaramillo Fleming is working on standardizing the Tech logo so that the university has a recognizable and consistent look. In addition, the university is beginning a push to have all departments adopt the new design for web pages.

Another recruiting effort in the Admission Office is to offer perks to high school seniors who pay their acceptance fee by mid-January. Already, early enrollment for fall 2010 is well ahead of last year’s pace.

Retention

Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Scott Zeman gave an update on retention efforts. He reported that retention is rather flat, improving from 70 percent last year to 72 percent this year. While Tech lags behind UNM and NMSU in retention, the six-year graduation rate is competitive within the state, although well behind the national average.

The university is adopting new technology to help faculty devise early intervention strategies for struggling students, Zeman said. New software modules will allow instructors to identify students who need help.

The Retention Committee also launched an effort with instructors who teach 100-level courses.

“We talked about the importance of retention and how important they are being on the front lines with new students and how they can use the referral system,” Zeman said. “The young faculty members are particularly interested in this.”

Tech is attacking retention from a variety of other angles, including a proposed student advisor program and a new academic warning system that raises the bar and includes freshmen.

Maestas reported on the Upward Bound program, a high school program to prepare first-generation college students for the rigors of higher education. Now entering its third year, the program will see its first class of Tech freshman in the fall of 2010, he said.

Tech was also successful in securing a $2.86 million grant to advance the graduate programs at New Mexico Tech. The Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans grant is intended to improve facilities and curricula at minority-serving institutions.

Tech will use the funds to install six “smart classrooms,” purchase software, train faculty, update curricula and create a Center for Graduate Studies.

Golf Tourney

Lopez reported that the annual President’s Golf Tournament raised nearly $170,000. He said several sponsors and golfers told him that Tech’s tournament is the classiest, best-run tournament around. About 320 golfers played in three flights September

He praised tournament organizer Colleen Guengerich for repeating last year’s success in this year’s tough economic times. The tournament’s proceeds fund scholarships for financially strapped students at Tech.

Swine Flu

Vice President of Finance Lonnie Marquez, who also is the chair of the Emergency Response Team, reported on the university’s preparations for the swine flu.

He said the ERT has sent letters to students, posted links and updates on the website, drafted student volunteers, participated in webcasts, identified vacant dorm rooms for isolating sick students and established plans for delivering meals and fluids to sick students.

The Health Center will have flu shots available for all students for free within three weeks. The university is trying to procure enough shots to offer free vaccinations to employees as well.

Other News

Lopez informed the Regents of a new $104,000 contract between White Sands Missile Range and the Micro-Electronic Testing and Technology Obsolescence Program. Tech will subcontract with Syndetix to provide support of the project.

  • The Regents approved the disposal of excess property to the Civil Air Patrol. The university is disposing of an old radio tower that is no longer in use.
  • The Regents approved three resolutions related to the New Mexico Consortium, which is the body representing the three research universities in the state and their interests at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The resolutions are intended to streamline the working group.
  • The Regents officially conferred degrees to the list of August 2009 graduates. The summer graduates include 10 bachelor’s degrees, 22 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees.
  • Marquez reported that the Employee Health Trust is on solid footing. Expenditures match revenues for the fiscal year to date.
  • Marquez reported that the university is well within budget through two months of the fiscal year.
  • The Regents approved two additional research and public service project requests: $256,400 for Homeland Security programs and $150,000 for the Small Business Innovation Research program.

– NMT –