San Juan College evaluating academic changes to outdoor leadership program

Joshua Kellogg The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan College is discussing changes to its Outdoor Leadership, Education and Recreation program as administrators attempt to manage budget concerns.

Barbara Ake, the college's vice president for learning, said there have been talks with staff members across the campus to transition the academic program to a recreation program run by the college's Community Learning Center.

Other changes include possibly dropping the program's academic courses for students to earn an associate degree and certification in OLER. The program includes field-based classes in outdoor leadership, education and recreation to help students earn certifications in the fields of whitewater raft instructor, kayaking, water rescue, wilderness first aid and more.

The college is not accepting new students for either portion of the OLER program, but students already enrolled are being allowed to finish.

"We would use the expertise of the Community Learning Center and combine with the (Health and Human Performance Center) to continue to provide the services to the community and our current students," Ake said.

Teddy Farias, the dean of the School of Health Sciences, said the school hopes to address community needs and work to bring back the degree and certification program.

"I'm looking forward to doing whatever is best for the community and what is reasonable, as well," Farias said.

Ake said no staff positions would be cut during the proposed transition. All other services, including the Outdoor Equipment Rental Center and the High Endeavors Challenge Course, will remain open.

Ake cited some of the constraints the college faced while preparing its budget for the upcoming school year starting on July 1. The college was facing a shortfall of about $3 million before tuition and student fee increases were implemented, along with a 3 percent reduction in operation expenses. With the 3 percent reduction, the college has reduced operations costs 9 percent in two years.

"Our budget situation is very uncertain at this time. We have decreased in our oil and gas revenues anywhere from 16 to 37 percent, depending on when you look at the numbers," Ake said.

Ake said the program averages an enrollment of about 13 full-time students or about 500 hours of requested class time. Between 2009 and 2014, the size of the graduating class was between three and five students each year.

Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., has seen stable enrollment for its outdoor leadership undergraduate program, according to spokesman Mitch Davis. The school's Outdoor Adventure degree program has seen an average enrollment of about 98 students over the last five fall semesters. Davis said the college is projecting a potential enrollment increase for the upcoming school year.

Ake said the SJC staff evaluated the OLER program as part of its program review process. That process examined a number of factors, including enrollment, operation expenses, equipment costs, tuition dollars, return on investment and state funding.

"We are looking at every program, taking into consideration how successful our students are, what does our community need, what does our community want, what do our employers need," Ake said.

Ake said no other college programs have seen changes like the OLER program, but the college is continuing to review all programs.

Farias said he sees opportunities for growth by developing community outdoor recreation events like the Zombie 5k Run for Your Life event.

The college is looking to fill a new position, outdoor recreation coordinator, to help expand outdoor recreation events for the community.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.