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NMSU Grants redesigns, improves teaching thanks to $2.6 million grant

National studies have found that 30 to 40 percent of all entering college freshmen are unprepared for college-level math, reading and writing.


Students at NMSU Grants.
Students walk to classes at NMSU Grants. A new, five-year, $2.6 million grant will enable the campus to move to a campus-wide, student-centered, activity-based learning environment.

At New Mexico State University?s Grants campus, students are experiencing low course completion rates in developmental education, critical college gateway and high-demand technology courses, resulting in low associate degree and certificate completions.

?We are experiencing decreasing graduation rates in our degree and certificate programs. Only 233 degrees were awarded over a seven-year period,? said Rolando Rael, NMSU Grants Title V director, during an NMSU Scholarly Excellence Rally March 6. ?The low student success rates indicate the developmental classes may not be addressing the real learning needs of our students.?

?A basic premise of the community college mission is ?open admissions,? which means that students are accepted into college at whatever academic entry point they are at. With NMSU moving to the new Guaranteed Pathways Program, students who do not meet NMSU academic standards will be channeled to our community colleges,? said Felicia Casados, NMSU Grants president.

?The types of funding support Title V is providing to our community colleges is vital to enable us to develop innovative and accelerated methods to help our students complete a higher education, either a certificate or associate degree, and be ?transfer ready? to complete a bachelor?s degree,? she said.

The faculty at NMSU Grants is stepping up to improve the success of their students. The community college received a $2.6 million, five-year Individual Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, funded annually at $519,767 under Title V?s Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program, to implement ?Cambiando Nuestros Paisajes de Aprendizaje, Changing our Learning Landscape.?

?This Title V grant will allow us to redesign many of our courses and improve on the way we teach,? Rael said. ?We want to implement pedagogical and andragogical innovative methods that will help our students be successful.?

Title V grants at NMSU Grants have been ?innovation? funding sources over the course of the past 10 years as the community college has obtained and managed four grants.

NMSU Grants? enrollment has a high percentage of students with at-risk characteristics. The students? average age is 25, 73 percent are low income, 70 percent work, 73 percent attend classes part-time and 60 percent self-identify as first-generation college students.

NMSU Grants will be implementing a major paradigm shift to a campus-wide, student-centered, activity-based learning environment.

?The majority of our students are non-traditional,? Rael said. ?In regards to the non-traditional student, there are a lot of different ways people learn. We want to get away from teacher-centered classrooms and develop more learner-centered classrooms. We want students to be more involved during class time.?

During the first year of the grant, the faculty will address how they will improve upon teaching math. This summer they will work on how to re-design math courses, classrooms and how to adapt different teaching methods to enhance and accelerate student learning.

Only one out of every eight students entering NMSU Grants is math ready.

?Math is one of the stumbling blocks for students,? Rael said. ?If you have to go through various levels of remedial math before you get to the first college level course, it may take two or three years. If you are advertising to these students that they can get their associate degree in two years, realistically it?s not going to happen. We have to find ways for students to get that proficiency, the mastery of the subject, quicker.?

The next phase of the program will address the same issues for language arts.

?Reading and writing is the cornerstone of being a self-learner,? Rael said. ?It is said, students learn to read so they can learn by reading. Developing self-learners is the real goal of higher education.?

The funding will allow NMSU Grants to develop collaboratively based math and writing centers to provide additional out-of-class instructional contacts.

Ultimately, NMSU Grants leadership wants to create a faculty learning community for curricula innovations to enhance student success in all 30-plus general education courses offered.

The final phase of the grant will be to update the community college?s automotive and welding technologies.

?Automotive and welding technologies have provided strong direct employment for our students in the past,? said Rael. ?But the equipment we have used to teach these skills may no longer be current with national standards.?

To avoid the use of expensive equipment that requires costly maintenance, NMSU Grants plans to use a portion of the funds to develop state-of-the-art simulator/trainer labs for automotive and welding technologies.

?Because we are a Hispanic-Serving Institution, we are able to qualify for this additional funding source,? Rael said. Students at NMSU Grants are 37 percent Hispanic and 41 percent are Native American. ?We hope this funding will increase the effectiveness of our institution to serve our diverse students and community.?