University of New Mexico Regents on Monday approved an “agreement in principle” to allow the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science to hold classes for 40 sixth-graders in the UNM West building in Rio Rancho.
Under the proposed partnership with UNM West, AIMS would enroll 40 state residents, chosen by lottery, into a sixth grade class each year. In 2018, when the first cohort reaches ninth grade, AIMS would admit 60 students per year, with 40 entering sixth grade and 20 entering high school.
AIMS first partnered with UNM in 2007. The school moved that year, two years after its founding, into the Science and Technology Park on the south campus at UNM in Albuquerque.
AIMS provides a rigorous college-prep curriculum. Students proceed from algebra to calculus in grades 8-11. Two years of Japanese or Chinese is required for graduation. Dual enrollment in college classes is part of the regular schedule for grades 10-12.
In 2013, almost 95 percent of AIMS students scored proficient or advanced in reading and math on the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment. That same year, 42 percent of students in Albuquerque Public Schools and 58 percent in Rio Rancho Public Schools reached proficiency in math.
AIMS gives students “personal attention” through “dedicated faculty” and a student-teacher ratio of 16:1, as of last year, according to information posted on its website.
The AIMS school on the UNM West campus could serve more than just Rio Rancho residents. Students from Santa Fe and Socorro attend the AIMS Albuquerque campus, according to Wynn Goering, CEO at UNM West. AIMS does not provide student transportation.
The preliminary approval from regents allows AIMS and UNM West to develop a more detailed plan for how they will share the one building on the UNM West campus and prepare for construction of another building as soon as 2015, when the two schools are expected to need more space.
UNM West counted 858 students registered for classes on the first day of this semester. By the end of the semester in May, the campus expects 1,000 students, Goering said.
UNM West expects to almost double its college student enrollment every two years. From this fall to the 2016 school year, the headcount campus should increase from 2,045 to 3,894, according to documents prepared for the Monday meeting.
More students are expected to enroll at UNM West this fall, as the campus begins offering 10 programs in their entirety (in the social sciences, humanities, health sciences, business and education), with additional programs in technology and healthcare anticipated in future years.
Some regents expressed concerns when Goering and AIMS principal Kathy Sandoval presented their plans at two meetings last week. They worried about whether AIMS and UNM West could have a program ready in five months.
“We’re not far along enough in the planning to talk about potential funding sources for a new building — that only comes after you have a clear idea of a building’s purpose, size, location, etc.,” Goering said in an email Tuesday. “We’ll give the regents some idea of building needs and associated costs in May, but that’s it.”
Goering could not say whether an additional building on the UNM West campus would draw upon the local gross receipts tax fund set aside for higher education buildings. “All I can say is that it’s the city’s money, so in the final analysis they decide how it gets spent,” he added.
CNM Rio Rancho and UNM West are “definitely still talking” about a shared building, Goering said, even as the two campuses have announced separate expansions. CNM recently announced it will offer several technical and trades programs at the AMREP building this fall.
“The announced CNM expansion relates largely to programs we don’t and can’t offer at UNM West, with the exception of the EMT where the demand has been steady at both institutions,” Goering wrote.
The CNM Rio Rancho campus already has lab space for science classes and training nurses and other healthcare workers. But Goering says UNM West cannot make do with what is available up the street at the CNM campus.
“UNM West has an immediate need for laboratory classrooms in biology and chemistry, in order to serve nursing and other healthcare curricula,” according to documents prepared for the regents
The competition for state education dollars could have a local impact.
By the end of the decade, the local AIMS campus would graduate 60 high school seniors each year.
Rio Rancho Public Schools receives a little over $10,000 from the state for every regular student who attends its schools. The state provides more for special education students.
Last month, the Observer reported RRPS was facing a financial shortfall and did not have the funds to build Joe Harris Elementary, which would relieve overcrowding in schools on the south side of the city, in part because overall growth has stalled: the district added only a few dozen students this year.
If AIMS enrolled 240 Rio Rancho students in 2018, RRPS could lose as much as $2 million to $3 million from its annual budget.
“We want to keep RRPS fully informed of developments and of course want to continue our excellent relationship with them,” Beth Miller, director of Outreach & Strategic Initiatives at UNM West, said in an email on Monday.
(This story contains material reported by Albuquerque Journal staff writer Mike Bush.)