“You can’t see the force of the trees if you do everything the same way always and always,” says Executive Director of Higher Education Center Rebecca Estrada, whose recent promotion from the Santa Fe Community College campus to the newly opened HEC in central Santa Fe (SFUAD’s partnering campus) has initiated promising collaborations with the state’s educational institutions.
“For being the state capital, we actually don’t have as many higher degrees [offered],” Estrada says, explaining how most of the 500 students enrolled this semester at HEC are locals who are supporting family, returning to school, or are young parents who work during the day.
“I did the traditional four-year route,” Estrada says, “and that was good for me, but I was lucky and not everyone is in a position to do that. Some students, for a variety of reasons, want to stay close to home.”
Along with accommodating working students by offering evening courses, Estrada says HEC’s purpose is to encourage higher education collaboration rather than competition among New Mexico’s higher degree programs.
“Let’s give the students the most portfolio options we have,” Estrada says. “They can do an associate’s degree and seamlessly transition into a bachelor’s degree.” Because of the agreements with partnering institutions (including New Mexico Highlands, New Mexico State, University of New Mexico, Institute of American Indian Arts, Small Business Development Center and New Mexico Education Opportunity Center), transitions between degrees with varying universities can be handled in one central location, without opposition.
“What a powerful statement the state of New Mexico is sending by bringing together large universities under one roof in the capital city!” says partnering advisor of Highlands University Thomasinia Ortiz-Gallegos.
University of New Mexico’s partnering adviser Carmen Lujan agrees, saying “[It’s] something our community has needed for a very long time. UNM bachelor and graduate programs has come full circle, arriving back at the SFUAD (formerly CSF) campus. Our facilities were once housed in the barracks behind Benildus Hall. This location is far more attractive to our non-traditional students who work during the day, many of which come from state agencies and local hospitals.”
So far, Estrada says, administrators have received positive feedback about HEC from the Santa Fe community.
“The big thing, of course, is about the location,” Estrada says. “‘Look you’ve brought Highlands to us, you’ve brought UNM to us!’” And though the facility is primarily directed at SFCC students and partnering universities, Estrada explains that the building itself has opened up to general education classes, which feed into dual credit for high schoolers such as those from Santa Fe High School, St. Michael’s High School and Capital High School. And with the recent land purchase by New Mexico School for the Arts administration, the addition of secondary schools to this education corridor will only encourage young students to pursue higher degrees.
“It could theoretically become a bit of an education hub,” Estrada says, “where younger students could have the opportunity to interact with older more seasoned students who have already been through the process of college. There are all sorts of theories, but first we have to get there. Evolve and grow.”
And Estrada admits that SFCC’s administration change has made the collaboration of HEC much easier. According to Estrada, SFCC’s former President Ana ‘Cha’ Guzmán “didn’t have a reputation for easing partnership, but with these new administration changes, it make all those conversations easier.” Additionally, Public School Superintendent Joel D. Boyd supported the opportunity for increased retention and graduation rates among Santa Fe High Schoolers by welcoming HEC to the education hub.
“Being across the street from Santa Fe High School serves as a constant visual reminder to the high school students,” Ortiz-Gallegos says. “[They] can pursue their bachelor’s and master’s degree…literally right in their backyard. We also have outstanding neighbors, Santa Fe [University of] Art and Design,” Ortiz-Gallegos adds, “who also provide outstanding programs, have sensational faculty and outstanding students. We may not be in the same building but being in such close proximity allows for an expanded college campus and community!”
And SFUAD is part of that community, Estrada explains. “We are talking about a few places where we can collaborate,” she says, “where we can do some facility sharing or maybe how can we leverage resources to get the students what they need, especially because we don’t have certain kinds of facilities here. Those are still new conversations, but we see [SFUAD] still as a partners, even if the logo is not on the wall. We’re neighbors!”