LAS VEGAS, NM – Following a successful accreditation reaffirmation by the Higher Learning Commission, New Mexico Highlands is positioning itself to be a stronger university through several significant improvements across all of its operations.
The initiative, HU Futures, is a directive from Highlands’ president, Sam Minner, to create a more vibrant and effective university by examining programs, correcting inefficiencies and removing obstacles to student success.
“With the deep experience among the university’s senior administration faculty and staff, we’re in an excellent position to move New Mexico Highlands forward, capitalize on our strengths and streamline our processes,” Minner said.
A team from the Higher Learning Commission visited Highlands Nov. 6-7 to review the progress the university made in addressing its criteria for accreditation. The Higher Learning Commission notified Highlands July 9 it has met the identified criteria and is removed from probation. Highlands has been fully accredited since 1926 and remained accredited during the probation period.
Minner organized four task forces to examine the university’s academic structures and curricular offerings, student life, athletics, and finances. The task forces are also exploring partnerships with other institutions in New Mexico.
Among the academic changes Highlands will implement is finalizing the approval process for the university’s only terminal degree, a master of fine arts in media arts. A terminal degree is the highest degree awarded in a field.
“This degree will open so many options for our media arts students, including the ability to teach at the postsecondary level,” said Roxanne Gonzales, Highlands’ provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Highlands is also working on a memorandum of understanding with Northern New Mexico College to combine underenrolled courses. Normally, underenrolled courses are cancelled, which means students might have to wait an additional year before courses are offered again. Combining courses with Northern New Mexico means students will have more streamlined access to courses they need.
“It’s about retention and keeping students on track,” Gonzales said.
Other immediate academic changes include moving the university’s first-year experience program, which helps new students adjust to college life, under the College of Arts and Sciences to provide additional support for the program, recruiting an executive director of online and extended learning to build Highlands’ online offerings, and improving communications and efficiencies with the university’s statewide centers. Highlands is also planning on starting an e-sports club to provide an additional activity for students and help increase enrollment, and Highlands plans to bring back its mariachi program under the cultural studies academic unit.
“The mariachi program was an important part of the fabric of Highlands and the community,” Minner said.
Highlands is also implementing several improvements impacting student life. A new program, HU Jumpstart, will better equip students with the skills and knowledge to adjust to college life.
Intramurals, the campus swimming pool and fitness center, now under the Office of Campus Life, will be moved under the Outdoor Recreation Department for a more seamless operation. Students will also be able to hone their leadership skills through a new program, HU at the Roundhouse, where Highlands students can work alongside and receive mentorship from elective officials.
Immediate improvements in the Department of Athletics include a new student-athlete orientation and a more productive infrastructure to increase recruitment, retention and graduation among Highlands’ athletes.
“We want our student athletes to succeed in their respective sports and, even more so, we want out student athletes to succeed in the classroom and after graduation,” said Highlands Athletic Director Craig Snow. “We have an impressive record of higher-than-average GPAs among our athletes, but we want to set the bar even higher.”
The Office of Strategic Enrollment Management is taking steps to improve communication to prospective students. The office is hiring a transfer student admissions counselor, who will be housed at Central New Mexico University in Albuquerque and has hired a communications coordinator to oversee the development of marketing materials as well as information on the web and on social media.
The task forces are developing long-term initiatives, which will be vetted by the university community in during the next year. These initiatives include:
- the possibility of combining Highlands’ purchasing, central receiving and central store to create a more cost-effective and efficient means of inventory;
- expanding the university’s Office of Career Services to meet future expectations in career preparedness;
- proposals to coordinate student health services with neighboring institutions, developing a well-being app and centralized resource page, and implement a financial education program;
- and a review of academic program offerings to meet national trends.