Thursday, October 07, 2010
Wanted: New Career
By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Journal Staff Writer
As the recession set in around 2008, a worsening business climate led Kelly Gabriele to abandon her 13-year career as a retail manager and opt for paramedic medicine.
"I just wanted to get out of retail," Gabriele, 29, said during a recent break in her paramedic lab course at Central New Mexico Community College.
Though she never felt threatened by a layoff, Gabriele was alarmed by a high turnover among managers at her store and the mounting workload for those who remained. "I didn't feel like it was going to be a stable career for the rest of my life," she said.
With a 5-year-old son to support and her husband deployed with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan, Gabriele quit her job in April to work full time on an associate degree in paramedic medicine, which she expects to complete by May.
"In retail, I felt fairly secure, but I wanted to do something I feel good about doing," she said.
Gabriele is among 14,400 students ages 26 and older who comprise nearly half of CNM's fall enrollment of about 29,900.
Older students are a key factor in the rapid growth in CNM's enrollment, which has climbed 29 percent since 2006. Enrollment spiked 6.7 percent this fall.
CNM officials attribute much of the growth to a struggling economy that has encouraged many people to return to college in the pursuit of secure and fulfilling careers.
"Anything in allied health, you're not going to get laid off," said Cy Stockhoff, a CNM instructor who teaches Gabriele's paramedic lab. "But (students) also want meaning in their lives."
The 110 graduates of CNM's paramedic degree program have found jobs with hospitals, fire departments and ambulance companies, with starting salaries as high as $55,000 a year, program director Michael Voss said.
CNM is the state's largest educational institution. Its enrollment has eclipsed that of the University of New Mexico, which enrolled 28,800 students this fall. Demand outstripped CNM's ability to enroll students in certain classes, which President Katharine Winograd attributed to budget limitations and a shortage of qualified faculty.
Those classes include freshman English and introductory chemistry and biology, said Xeturah Woodley, CNM's associate vice president of academic affairs.
Brian Coffelt, 49, began to rethink his 22-year career as an insurance claims manager after his California employer, 21st Century Insurance, was bought out by American Insurance Group in 2005.
Coffelt's job became unmanageable after his corporate bosses required him to manage claims adjusters in 24 states but afforded him no travel budget, he said.
Now in his third year at CNM, Coffelt plans to transfer to UNM next year and is shooting for a master's degree in psychology and a counseling career.
Coffelt is one of 2,800 students ages 41 to 50 who comprise nearly one in 10 CNM students this fall.
"I'm here to make a career that I'll enjoy," Coffelt said after a political science class at CNM's Montoya campus.