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Honors College At UNM?

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When University of New Mexico’s Chaouki Abdallah was up for the job of interim provost last year, he vowed to improve academics.

That vow could mean a new college at UNM that would come with a minimum $80 million price tag but would elevate the university’s academic status and improve graduation rates, Abdallah says.

Abdallah, who will be provost until at least 2013, is pushing for establishment of an honors college. While UNM has an honors program, it is small in scope. An honors college would have its own dean, full-time faculty and student residences. It would also offer degrees.

Abdallah, backed by a 12-member committee that examined the idea, believes the college could raise UNM’s academic profile.

“We can attract students who have a higher ability to succeed at the University of New Mexico,” Abdallah said at a Board of Regents meeting earlier this month.

A task force report stated that an honors college would “increase the enrollment of high-achieving students, contribute to economic development in New Mexico and improve the academic climate for students and faculty.”

So far, the idea seems to have support.

“It’s a very, very good proposal, and I applaud the provost,” Faculty Senate President Tim Ross said. Numerous Senate committees have begun evaluating a proposal draft and could soon help develop an honors college curriculum, he said.

Abdallah hopes to have a draft done by May, a regents’ decision in the fall and the opening of the college in two years, although that does not include new buildings or student residences.

He cautioned, though, that there could be delays. For example, university leaders still don’t know whether they need approval from the state to establish a new college. “If we do have to go through Santa Fe, that may take more time,” Abdallah said.

What’s more, establishing a college will cost money at a time when the university has seen budget reductions.

UNM would have to build new facilities for residence halls, classroom space, advisement and administrative offices, lounges and social areas and a computer lab, among other expenses.

The cost: $79.2 million. UNM would also need to hire staff and faculty for the college at an initial cost of $1.3 million.

Still, Abdallah says the honors college “will more than pay for itself.”

By attracting higher-performing students — such as those who ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class or scored a 30 or higher on the ACT — UNM’s graduation rate would increase and its academic reputation would be enhanced, he said. The six-year graduation rate is 45.1 percent.

According to the committee study, UNM attracts fewer so-called high-performing students than other universities.

About 20 percent of UNM freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their high school class, the report found, and about 28 percent scored a 30 or higher on the ACT. At the University of Arizona, 31 percent of incoming freshmen graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, while the figure was 28 percent at Arizona State.

“Clearly, UNM is losing the recruiting battle for the state’s highest-achieving high school students,” the report states.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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