San Juan College VP says new federal grant is significant achievement for school

Boomer Appleman says college's new EOC will be only second in New Mexico

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • San Juan College has received a $1.16 million federal TRIO grant.
  • The college will use the money to establish an education opportunity center.
  • The center will be staffed by a full-time director and two full-time advisers.
Boomer Appleman

FARMINGTON —  Vice President of Student Services Boomer Appleman sees San Juan College's recent receipt of a $1.16 million federal TRIO grant as serving one major purpose — making folks who have dropped out of the educational system without acquiring a high school or college degree feel comfortable enough to jump back into the pool.

"We want to break down those myths," Appleman said of the sense of intimidation people in that situation often feel about earning their high school diploma or enrolling in a college program. "We want them to know, 'You're not going to go through this alone.'"

Appleman is optimistic the grant will help San Juan College reach those potential students in a way it never has before. The U.S. Department of Education's TRIO programs — the name is derived from the three entities that were combined under its umbrella, Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Service — are designed to identify and provide support services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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San Juan College already operates two TRIO programs, one that supports students studying in the fields of sciences, technology, engineering and math, and another that supports students pursuing any other major. But Appleman said the school's receipt of this latest grant was a significant achievement for the institution.

"Of all the TRIO programs, this is the most competitive," he said. "So for us to be an awardee is fantastic. This is really going to help the community."

Under the terms of the grant, the college will establish an educational opportunity center (EOC) for program participants who want to pursue a college education. The grant funding — which will be administered in annual installments of $232,050 for the next five years — will allow the college to hire a full-time director for the center and two full-time advisers.

Appleman said TRIO is devoted to breaking down the barriers that keep disadvantaged, first-generation college students from achieving their goals. In practical terms, San Juan College's efforts will be devoted to helping those who didn't finish high school earn their high school equivalency certification, putting them in a position to further their education — and their earnings potential — by going on to college.

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And those who already have a high school diploma will be able to rely on the help of the EOC staff when the time comes to apply for college admission, complete their financial aid documents and register for classes. Appleman said that while that may not sound like a significant step to those accustomed to dealing with such paperwork, the process can be very intimidating for the uninitiated.

In fact, he believes it is enough to keep many potential, first-generation college students from moving forward. That is especially true, he said, of older folks who may be considering pursuing a college education.

"The longer you sit out, the more doubt you have about yourself, and you have more doubts about yourself because you're not living in that world," Appleman said.

Having an EOC on campus will make San Juan College different from most of its fellow higher-education institutions in the state, he said.

"This will make us only the second EOC in the state of New Mexico," Appleman said, noting that the other institution to hold that distinction is the University of New Mexico.

He said San Juan College officials crafted their grant application carefully, knowing how stiff the competition would be.

"We didn't just see it and go apply for it," he said, referring to the level of thought college officials applied to the application. "It fits our mission of educating and empowering individuals in an ever-changing world. We're here to help residents of New Mexico become what they want to be."

The program will serve 850 participants a year — a figure the college is obligated to meet under the terms of the grant. Appleman is confident San Juan College will meet that threshold.

"We would not have applied for it if we didn't think we can do it," he said.

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Appleman was more circumspect about the impact the program will have on the college's enrollment. He expects the institution to receive a boost from it, but he noted that the COVID-19 pandemic — and the chaos it has wrought on many students' college ambitions — has been a wild card no one could have anticipated.

"Yes, this will have a positive effect on enrollment, but, given what has happened in the last 24 months, that really has blown our enrollment projection models out of the water," he said, adding that the college will have to find a new center when it comes to making those forecasts.

But he didn’t hedge his bets when he considered what a powerful role the program can play in helping more Four Corners residents improve their educational credentials. Appleman said much of the infrastructure the program will rely on already has been created by other education, government and social service institutions in San Juan County, and that will allow San Juan College officials to hit the ground running when the EOC staff is hired and in place.

"It's going to be tremendous for the Farmington and San Juan County community because it's all about gaining that access and understanding," he said. "This will be another way we can demonstrate, 'Yes, we believe in your success. This is a great lifeline to those folks.'"

Appleman is so bullish about the EOC's potential to serve as a difference maker, in fact, that he said he expects it to solidify the college's reputation as a worthy grant recipient.

"This fits within our wheelhouse," he said. " … We expect more of these types of awards to be coming to San Juan College. We feel cautiously optimistic we can continue this momentum."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.