One Year At The Helm: A One-Year Look Back…

Dr. Richard Bailey, president of Northern New Mexico College completed his first year at the helm of Northern Tuesday. Last week Bailey addressed the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board Friday in Espanola City Council chambers. Dr. Bailey reported that the College has had the largest growth in percentage growth in New Mexico for the second consecutive year as well as the largest growth in dual credit courses. The College also has the No. 1 performing high school equivalency program in the United States. Photo by Maire O'Neill/


One Year At The Helm: A One-Year Look Back…

Dr. Richard Bailey, President of Northern New Mexico College completed his first year at the helm of Northern Tuesday, Oct. 17. The Valley Daily Post spoke to Dr. Bailey about his first year and he provided the following op-ed reflecting on his first year at Northern, the successes, and challenges. Read on for Richard Bailey’s thoughts on his first year as President of Northern New Mexico College:

On a Friday morning last October, I retired from the United States Air Force at a small ceremony at my duty location in Montgomery, Alabama.  The next day, my family boarded a plane for New Mexico.  We moved into our house in El Rito on Sunday, and the following day I started my new job at Northern New Mexico College (See article of Bailey taking the helm at Northern HERE).

 It was a whirlwind weekend to say the least.  This Tuesday marked my one-year anniversary at the College, and I have to admit that the occasion has prompted me to reflect on where we were a year ago, where we are today, and, perhaps most importantly, where we are headed.

We have many reasons to be proud as we look back, but I want to make it clear that the accomplishments we have made have very little to do with me as a president.  They have everything to do with our world-class faculty, who give so selflessly to our students; a committed, passionate staff who recognize that they are all educators in their own way; our community partners—business leaders, government representatives, and non-profits—who demonstrate that we are much stronger when we all work together; and last but certainly not least, our students, who oftentimes battle incredible challenges but persevere to transform their lives and the lives of their families.

To be frank, the transition hasn’t always been easy.  Change is often turbulent, and we had a lot of things to do to make the college more transparent and more compliant.  The first few months brought the revelation of a past alleged embezzlement, and a staggering annual audit report (See previous story on embezzlement at NNMC HERE).

Our strategy from the beginning was to shine a light on everything, accept our current challenges, and then work very hard to improve and move forward.  As I write this, we are about 55% complete with our cleanup efforts—putting all of the safeguards and processes in place (See previous story regarding the State Auditor’s audit of NNMC HERE).

We are not just striving to do things right, but better than right.  Our goal is to be the role model public institution for the rest of the state.  As taxpayers, all of you deserve that from us.

Northern Foundation began hosting regular community leadership circles to bring all community stakeholders together. See previous story HERE

Our academic mission is truly remarkable.  We received accreditation notices for our College of Education programs, and our College of Nursing’s Associate Degree program.  Now, we have nationally accredited programs in every corner of our institution, and an institutional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission in Chicago.  In other words, students who choose to study at Northern are getting a world-class quality education, recognized nationally for meeting and surpassing standards and expectations.  We do all of this, and yet remain, by far, the most affordable four-year college in all of the Southwest United States.  We know that in order to serve our community in Northern New Mexico, we must remain that way.  And we will.

We have also accomplished a lot in terms of our vision as an institution.  Last fall, we invited every faculty and staff member to help us craft a strategic direction.  It was important that this not be my personal direction, but our collective direction as a team.  Over two intensive workshops, over 150 people—faculty members and staff members from all departments—came together to define how best to move forward as a college.  That document is in its final stages now and should be released to the public in a few weeks.

Bailey began the tradition of holding quarterly "State of the College Addresses" to share information with the community in a timely fashion, and to open up channels of dialog. Here he is during the 2nd State of college address. See previous story HERE

We also have made some advances in bringing some life back to the El Rito campus.  Central to that strategy was a strong embrace of renewable energy alternatives, which can drive down utility costs long-term and provide more flexibility for future programs.  Through a new engagement with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and Guzman Energy, we are now excited to be hosting one of their first one-megawatt solar arrays.  The groundbreaking for that endeavor is being scheduled within the next several weeks and should be operational by early spring at the latest.  That will drive down utility costs for the College (and for any resident in El Rito tied to the grid) for the next thirty years, and will even yield a modest annual lease payment.  We’ve started a film lecture series, revitalized our greenhouse, and made great strides in bringing our observatory back into operation.  All of these accomplishments have been made possible through the gracious generosity of our faculty, staff, and community volunteer networks.  They have been the real heroes of our successes thus far on the El Rito campus.

The College has also embraced the notion that in order to make a difference in education, we need to be stronger partners with public educational institutions.  Thus, we worked hard to break down barriers and collaborate more fully with local school districts.  We are excited about our new Upward Bound grant, which will fund $1.3 million in programs aimed specifically at creating vibrant pathways for local high school students.  We have also set our sights on an early college high school in partnership with the Española Public Schools.  With the fine and performing arts as foundational elements, the school will demystify higher education and provide pathways to careers in education, business, engineering, health careers, and the arts and sciences.

Our High School Equivalency Program was just named in a Department of Education report as the top performing program in the United States, based on the percentage of students who graduate, and the percentage of those who transition into higher education, advanced employment, or the military.  Our program dominated every other program in the US, and did so with only 2/3 of the national average cost per student.  As in many programs here at Northern, we have learned to do amazing things with very little resources.

Finally, for the second year in a row, Northern New Mexico College has had the largest percentage growth in enrollment of any higher education institution in the state.  In a time of incredible uncertainty, and critical state budget challenges, our little college is growing more than any other.

Then candidate for the position, Richard Bailey addressing community members during a public forum in April 2016 at the Nick Salazar auditorium on NNMC Espanola campus. See story HERE: 

Have we had challenges during this first year?  Yes.  Do we still have hurdles to overcome?  Absolutely.  But we also have so many reasons to celebrate.  This College has endured unspeakable challenges and yet has risen above them to create opportunities, and in many ways, has triumphed over adversity.

What accounts for these good news stories?   As I said earlier, they have nothing to do with me.  On the contrary, our successes are a direct result of every single person at this institution subscribing to a vision.  All of us here—faculty, staff, students, and community members—believe that access to quality, affordable, higher education should not be reserved for a select few.  Rather, that access is a human right.  We believe that students in Northern New Mexico deserve the same opportunities as anyone else.  And we believe that the quality of education we offer here is as good—if not better—than everywhere else in the state.  That motivates us.  That keeps us going.  And it makes us Northern Proud.

As I contemplate my first anniversary as Northern’s president, I still get emotional at what a blessing it has been to serve our community.  Serving our students, faculty and staff has been the greatest honor of my life, and one I will never take for granted.  We still have work to do, and the next year will bring more challenges, but knowing the caliber of professionals with whom I have the privilege of serving, I am confident that there is nothing we cannot accomplish—together—as one.

Richard J. Bailey, Jr., Ph.D.
Northern New Mexico College