Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Highlands University is poised to move forward to engineer exciting programs and services for its students, said the university’s president.
“I look forward to harnessing the many assets here at Highlands – the commitment and dedication of faculty, staff, administrators, board members, alumni, friends of HU and others – to go far and high,” President Sam Minner told approximately 300 Highlands faculty and staff during a welcome-back breakfast Aug. 10. “Let’s work together to collectively address our challenges as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can get on with the important, exciting, life-changing work we all aspire to at Highlands. Let’s teach our students in the most engaging way we can muster and push hard on our quest to create new knowledge in the disciplines we love.”
Minner, who began his Highlands’ presidency in July 2015, talked about what he loves about Highlands.
“I love how we change lives all the time. I love our focus on affordability, with Highlands still the most affordable four-year university in New Mexico and one of the most affordable in the Southwest. I love how we make programs work for our students through ingenuity and creativity. I love our commitment to access – giving students a chance who might not get a chance anywhere else. I love our performance in the area of social mobility, taking students out of poverty and changing their lives and their family’s lives for generations to come. We were recently highlighted as one of the top universities in the nation in regard to our graduates’ social mobility,” Minner said.
Minner said he also loves the way Highlands continues to balance the liberal arts with professional programs.
“Everyone wants a good job professional job upon graduation, but life is about more than one’s job. The liberal arts continue to be one of the best paths to achieving important appreciation of the aesthetic dimensions in life like literature, music, poetry, art, and theatre. The liberal arts also contribute to an appreciation of how we differ as people, making life so much more interesting and rich,” Minner said
Minner said the most immediate challenge Highlands faces is reaccreditation. While the university is still accredited, the Higher Learning Commission placed Highlands on probation in August 2016 based upon a 2014-2015 accreditation process.
“I’ve worked very hard to engineer a new team dynamic to address the Higher Learning Commission concerns. One significant change includes naming Dr. Brandon Kempner as the liaison and lead author of our new assurance argument for the HLC. We established an HLC website with a mountain of evidence of what we’ve accomplished collectively in the last year available at www.nmhu.edu We’re on track now. Well done to all who helped with this campus-wide effort,” Minner said.
He said accreditation work will strengthen Highlands, making it a better institution to serve its students. He cited new improvements like a well-documented retention initiative; a mission statement broadly endorsed by faculty, staff, students and the Board of Regents; a handbook for contingent faculty and a process for evaluating them; a well-developed matrix that clearly demonstrates the many services Highlands provides for its center students; an effective tool for assessing co-curricular programs; and a much healthier Consolidated Financial Index (CFI) that is tied to strategic budgeting based upon the mission.
Minner highlighted some initiatives that show progress.
“In 2016, I created a Strategic Enrollment Management program with Dr. Edward Martínez leading this promising work in progress. We have new recruiters, new modern ways of managing recruitment to increase enrollment, and many new recruitment materials. At the same time, enrollment management faces daunting challenges, like the decreasing population in Northern New Mexico and major state funding concerns,” Minner said.
He said during the second half of his first year, he reengineered advancement to bolster donor funding.
“We have a new advancement leader in Theresa Law, a new staff, and modern advancement tools. In 2016, we capped a successful $750,000 campaign to support faculty development regarding high-impact practices. This year we completed a campaign to replace the soccer and football field turf. We also negotiated a $350,000 gift for naming rights to the Media Arts Trolley building, which opened on time and on budget in 2016,” Minner said.
He said 2016 marked the first year Highlands implemented a new campus life fee endorsed by students and the Board of Regents that aims to make campus more vibrant and culturally enriching for students.
“With this fee, we opened an Outdoor Recreation Center with hundreds of our students going on hikes, skiing trips and other outdoor excursions while also checking out equipment like mountain bikes and fishing gear. These healthy social activities are strongly correlated with improved retention for many students,” Minner said.
He said last fall, Highlands filled its gym with 2,500 to see a headline comedian and presented other Arts@HU events, all with no fee at the door for its students.
“We also offer these Arts@HU events to the community for a fee, with plans for upcoming shows like a country music artist, mariachi group, and ballet troupe,” Minner said.
He said the university is very fortunate to have a committed Board of Regents devote its time and considerable talent to Highlands’ well-being, saying the same is true of of its Foundation Board.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity and privilege to serve this institution, our students, faculty, staff and the community. I’m also thankful for our Highlands family and its high efforts on behalf of our students, working hard every day to improve what is already a fine institution,” Minner said.