Home New mexico economy NM Higher Education Leader Stephanie Rodriguez Visits San Juan College

NM Higher Education Leader Stephanie Rodriguez Visits San Juan College


FARMINGTON — After serving as New Mexico’s Secretary of Higher Education since 2020, Stephanie Rodriguez was no stranger to San Juan College’s programs and facilities even before receiving an in-depth campus tour Aug. 2.

But seeing pictures of these facilities is one thing, she said, and seeing them in person is another, especially when such a visit is accompanied by a detailed explanation of how the college adapts its programs. to meet the needs of San Juan County’s transitioning economy. .

“When you think about innovation and collaboration in higher education, I think San Juan College is the epitome of that,” Rodriguez said after spending two hours walking through various campus buildings and meeting a series of deans.

Rodriguez was in Farmington Aug. 1 and 2 for the New Mexico Higher Education Capital Expenditure Committee hearings. These meetings help state officials determine which higher education projects should be recommended for funding under the next round of statutory appropriations in the 2023 session and under the severance tax bond.

New Mexico Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez checks out some of the tools at a bike repair station outside San Juan College's new student housing center August 2, while the vice- President of Student Services, Boomer Appleman, looks on.

These hearings are held in various locations around the state and are usually accompanied by a visit to a host institution – San Juan College, in this case. But those in-person hearings haven’t happened for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Rodriguez’s visit this week has given him a fresh look at what the college has to offer and how it has used the funding it has. received in the past.

“Being on campus is key so you can see this firsthand to explain to the Legislature and the executive” whether the funding was put to good use, Rodriguez said.

In the case of San Juan College, Rodriguez seemed impressed with how the institution’s management handled that funding. She commended university president Toni Hopper Pendergrass and other school leaders for how they have built relationships with business, government and tribal leaders in San Juan County to leverage the most of that money, adding that their ability to do so “is in the big picture”. other level. This is where we want to put state money.

New Mexico Secretary of Higher Education Stephanie Rodriguez and Ruben Johnson, dean of the San Juan College School of Trades and Technology, walk through the school's diesel engine repair shop on August 2.

Rodriguez’s tour included stops at the college’s new Student Residential Center, its Trades and Technology Center, its Health Sciences Building, its School of Energy, and its Center for Health and Human Performance. She seemed particularly impressed with the tour of the new dorm, repeatedly remarking what a different residential experience the building offers students compared to her own experience at the University of New Mexico.

She also voiced her approval of the Trades and Technology Center’s sizable auto and diesel repair shops, wandering among the latter’s huge trucks and even finding herself drawn to a classic Chevrolet Monte Carlo and tricked into the former as Ruben Johnson, the dean from the center, accompanied him.

While much has been said in recent years about how much capital spending has gone to county or municipal state governments and never been used, Rodriguez said his agency was more accountable in that regard.

“Higher education is better at spending that money in a timely manner,” she said, explaining that competition for students is so fierce between colleges and universities these days that they’re eager to build. new projects as soon as possible.

Accompanied by San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass, right, and others, New Mexico Secretary of Higher Education Stephanie Rodriguez, center, stands under a pergola in the courtyard of the new student housing college on August 2.

When delays in completing these projects occur, she said, it is almost always due to labor and supply shortages that disproportionately affect institutions in small communities, a she declared.

“It’s a bit more difficult for them,” Rodriguez said. “Big schools often have access to a larger workforce, which makes it easier for them.”

New Mexico Secretary of Higher Education Stephanie Rodriguez photographs a mural painted on the wall of the Great Hall of San Juan College's new student housing center on August 2.

The secretary said her agency is carefully monitoring the progress of these projects in the state and has initiated a notification process to alert college officials when they are falling behind schedule. If an institution regularly encounters problems, she said, its leaders are informed that the status could affect their request for funding for future projects.

“It’s going to be a point of discussion” during the committee hearings, she said.

Rodriguez also noted that the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program – which allows New Mexico residents to receive 100% of the cost of their tuition and fees at public colleges and universities in the state – applies to those enrolled in certificate programs, not just associate or bachelor’s degree programs. She believes San Juan College is well positioned to attract many of these students through its many certification programs that help retrain many county residents.

“We are happy to invest this money in their higher education and help them get hired into high-paying jobs in New Mexico, she said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.