Northern New Mexico College was awarded a nearly $3 million grant last week, the largest grant in the College’s history. Funds from the grant will help students succeed in their curriculum through a project called “Fast-track to Finish” (F2F).
“We just found out about that last week,” Northern President Rick Bailey said Sept. 14. “And, obviously, we’re celebrating the heck out of it.”
The College aims to provide better outcomes to students, particularly first-generation college students, through strategies from Complete College America that have been strongly supported through statistics, Bailey said, such as finding ways for students to take more credits every year and matching curriculum with skills needed for different programs.
“The centerpiece of the grant proposal is to implement strategies that help Northern students achieve their educational goals faster,” he said. “The goal is very clear, it is about how we help Northern students get to the graduation stage, and to their own personal and professional goals faster.”
The funding totals $2,998,646 to be distributed over the next five years.
Provost Ivan Hurtado Lopez said these strategies are successful in a college such as Northern that has low-income and “non-traditional” students who have duties in addition to coursework, such as taking care of family or other jobs.
Bailey said Lopez and grant writer Zeke Parra were instrumental in the proposal.
Lopez said the grant application was submitted in February and Northern officials heard back at the beginning of September.
The U.S. Department of Education provided the grant through Title V which focuses on developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions, such as Northern.
Lopez said there are four goals with the grant project.
The first goal is “guided pathways,” to increase Hispanic and low-income retention and graduation rates.
The second goal is “student support,” in enhanced advising systems. The College will hire a social worker and implement software to better track student advising.
The third goal is “system redesign,” which involves redesigning courses to be taught online, and setting up virtual advising for students who might even be out of state.
The final goal is “professional development,” by developing staff and faculty for the new approaches.
Other objectives for the grant lay out ways to measure success by 2025, including having all full-time students trained in financial literacy and increasing the graduation rate of Hispanic and low income students from 21 to 39 percent.
15 to Finish
The outline of the grant is based on Complete College America strategies such as 15 to Finish, Math Pathways and Corequisite Support.
For 15 to Finish, the Complete College America website describes encouraging students to take 15 credits each semester and offering financial aid to support that, though this can be challenging when many students have to balance other responsibilities in addition to coursework.
“When you are dealing with non-traditional students, when you have students that are dealing with families and with a full-time job, it’s not easy to take 15 credits,” Lopez said. “And that’s why at non-traditional schools you’re going to see students taking very few courses at a time, and that makes it very, very difficult. The associate degree, instead of being a two-year program, ended up being a four- or a five-year program.”
Lopez said one strategy will be to develop eight-week courses that are easier for students to take while balancing other responsibilities. Bailey said as an example that students would only have two or three final exams at a time instead of five.
Lopez described Math Pathways as fitting math classes and concepts to match fields of study.
The website describes the concept as, “Ensure all students enroll in and complete gateway math in their first year by designing math courses that are aligned with the skills students need for their chosen program of study.”
Budgeted expenses from the program include staff members, including a program director, social worker, career services coordinator and distance education specialist.
Bailey said the College will hire staff members, such as a part-time career services coordinator specifically for that position. Previously, the College has had staff members take those responsibilities not as part of their job.
Other expenses include supplies and computer upgrades, and a website redesign.
Lopez said the website is the first point of contact for distance learning and the redesign is important for outreach.
The largest single expense is $416,045 over five years for Starfish Solution, Lopez said. Starfish Solution helps the College become more efficient in advising. Other softwares will be explored through a request for proposal process.
Bailey said another part of the project is experimenting with “group cohorts” by better defining groups of students who start courses at the same time, giving students built-in study and support networks.