CNM Truck -Driving School student Maria Abeyta adjusts her seat during a class in February. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)



Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

About 200 students, graduates and instructors in the bench jewelry and truck driving trade programs at Central New Mexico Community College, many of them carrying signs, filled an auditorium Tuesday night to push back against plans to “sunset” the courses and no longer offer certificates to those who complete them.

CNM has a major campus in Rio Rancho at 2601 Campus Blvd NE.

One after another, speakers told CNM’s governing board that the programs are successful, affordable and lead to good jobs, and without them they might not otherwise be able to pursue those careers. One supporter handed the board a petition with 900 signatures of people who want to maintain the jewelry program.

No one spoke in favor of eliminating the programs.

However, a CNM official told the Journal that the programs are no longer economically viable for the college.

Board Chairman Tom Swisstack said comments would be taken into consideration during a review by CNM’s planning and finance committees before the full governing board takes any action. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for May 10.

A number of speakers complained that CNM administration gave them no advance knowledge that the courses were being targeted, including instructors and business stakeholders in the community who rely on the programs for hiring.

“It’s not surprising that faculty were not forewarned of the plans to remove these programs from CNM’s offerings, given the administration’s history of denying faculty the right to be involved in critical operational and program decisions,” said Marissa Juárez, a full-time faculty member of the School of Communication, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Speaking in support of the two programs, Juárez said the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in the trucking industry will grow 6% in the next 10 years and it makes no sense to scale back a program that provides a crucial service in the nation’s supply chain at a time when there is a nationwide shortage of truck drivers. The bench jewelry program, she said, enriches the local art community and the jewelry making industry while creating jobs.

That was echoed by Mathew James Shepardson, owner of Tskies Jewelry in Albuquerque. He first hired a graduate of the bench jewelry program four years ago. Tskies has been growing about 50% each year and there are now seven graduates working for the business.

“I would not have been able to maintain this progress if it was not for the CNM bench jewelry program,” he said. “The new hires were all extremely proficient and required little training in safety protocols. I was basically able to plug them right in.”

Jewelry, Shepardson said, is more than just a trade good to be manufactured; “it is art, and art is our culture.”

Established more than 30 years ago, the truck driving program, which is consistently full, leads the way to obtaining a Class A Commercial Driver’s License. It provides people, even those from disadvantaged backgrounds, an opportunity to generate “more income than in almost any other field in New Mexico,” said instructor John Morningstar.

CNM Ingenuity truck driving instructor Steve Towne works on parallel parking with a student on the intracacies of parallel parking in February 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)


“Our program is exceptional nationally and the most comprehensive program I’ve ever seen in this industry,” he told the governing board. “Does it lose money for CNM? I don’t doubt it. Could we find a way to make that ledger balance a little better? I’m sure we can, but we don’t know what your budget shortfall is, so it’s hard for us to know how much we need to make this work.”

All of CNM’s 181 associate degree and certificate programs are evaluated annually by a committee of representatives from each division of the college. They take into consideration the college mission, market demand, program economics and alignment to academic and industry standards, said Samantha Sengel, CNM’s vice president of workforce and community success. Of them, 14 were recommended for sunset, with two of them – the truck driving program and the bench jewelry program – possibly being offered on a non-certificate basis to run out of one of the CNM Ingenuity workforce and training sites.

The certificate truck driving program takes about 15 weeks and costs participants about $1,600. But it is prohibitively expensive to CNM, where it has been running a yearly deficit of between $450,000 and $600,000, Sengel said.

Moving it to CNM Ingenuity, which has an existing non-credit truck driving program, would increase the cost to those enrolled to about $4,600 and shorten the course time to four weeks. Efficiencies and consolidation under a new Ingenuity business model would help the program break even within the first year, she said.

The costs leading to a certificate in the bench jewelry program over two or three semesters is about $1,000 per participant, Sengel said. It isn’t yet known what that cost would be by moving it to Ingenuity, she said.

The problem with that program is it doesn’t meet CNM’s threshold of having 10 graduates per year per program. In the 2020-21 academic year, there were just 12 declared majors and only four graduates in that program, Sengel said.

The bench jewelry program’s main instructor, Harley McDaniel, said the enrollment drop was a result of the pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were doing really good and had 30 or 40 students in the program at a time,” he said.

According to Sengel, every program at CNM was impacted by the pandemic, but the bench jewelry certificate program has been on a downward enrollment and completion trend for three years. In 2019-20 it had just six graduates, and in 2018-19 just eight.

“We lose on average about $16,000 a year on that program alone,” she said.

That certificate program is recommended to deactivate in Fall 2023, allowing current students to finish. Jewelers are not required to have a certificate by employers to enter the field and there is no job growth projected by the most reliable workforce data, Sengel said.