Starting fall 2023, Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque will no longer offer a bench jewelry certificate program for its students.
ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Despite one of the biggest uproars and pushbacks in the recent history of Central New Mexico Community College, officials have elected to eliminate the bench jewelry certificate program at the Albuquerque school.
On Tuesday, seven members of the CNM governing board voted unanimously to deactivate the certificate due to a “persistent and low number of graduates” in the twelve-credit-minimum program that teaches students the ins and outs of jewelry making, from design and fabrication to repair and sales.
CNM interim dean Melanie Viramontes explains that the jewelry classes will still be offered as program electives for students pursing a fine arts degree, though the details have yet to be ironed out by the school’s administration.
“In the coming weeks, I’ll be working with our faculty to work specifically on those classes to ensure that they meet the program requirements,” says Viramontes.
The change is scheduled to take effect starting with the fall 2023 semester.
The bench jewelry program is currently taught and supported by one full-time faculty member, two part-time faculty, and one part-time technician. Viramontes says that the jewelry faculty will have the opportunity to teach other classes in the art department.
Harley McDaniel, the full-time bench jewelry instructor who started the program in 2016, recognized the supporters who came out in droves to try to save the bench jewelry certificate.
“I want to say thank you to the community. They came out to support us and made sure our voices were heard,” says McDaniel. “There are so many people who came out—faculty folks, union folks, people in the arts in general. [The CNM governing board] would have never listened to anything we said without them, and they at least heard us and it wasn’t in a vacuum.
“The college board is going to do what the college board is going to do. I just want to remind people that these are elected officials, and if we don’t like the way they vote on things, we can vote in their election,” adds McDaniel.
Before voting in favor of sunsetting the certificate program, CNM board member Charles Ofelt acknowledged the importance of the state’s jewelry trade, which employs many Native American artisans and women of color.
“There were some comments that I thought were particularly important,” says Ofelt. “The fact that jewelry is part of every culture, the fact that it’s a very important part of the New Mexico culture, the fact that the skills need to be out there and available.”
Nancy Baca, Annette Chavez y De La Cruz, James A. Chavez, Robert P. Schoenfelder, Thomas E. Swisstack, and Virginia M. Trujillo joined Ofelt in the unanimous decision. CNM president Tracy Hartzler was present at the May 10, 2022 meeting.
The school’s truck driving certificate program also failed to make it out alive during the two-hour public gathering at CNM’s Smith Brasher Hall, falling by a 4-3 vote. It will transition to a non-credit offering through CNM Ingenuity, a non-college credit arm of the school that teaches workforce skills.
The cost-cutting decisions were informed by waning enrollment numbers at the central Albuquerque community college, a trend that has impacted other statewide two-year colleges.
According to New Mexico Independent Community Colleges figures presented by CNM vice president of student services Nireata Seals, CNM’s fall headcount had dropped from 23,096 in fall 2019 to 21,398 in fall 2020 and to 18,563 in fall 2021, an overall decrease of nearly twenty percent.
Clovis Community College, Luna Community College in Las Vegas, Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, New Mexico Junior College near Hobbs, San Juan College in Farmington, and Santa Fe Community College also experienced significant losses in its enrollment numbers between 2019 and 2021.
Seals, citing New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee numbers, said that enrollment in CNM’s key feeder institutions such as Albuquerque Public Schools has plummeted by seventeen percent in the last decade due to falling birth rates and increased enrollment in charter schools.