As educators, we play a central role as subject matter experts who develop curricula and create academic programs. However, more important is the role we play in shaping the learning environment of our institutions. This environment is a product of our attitude and is a powerful influence on our students’ successes.
That learning environment is currently being tested as we stare at three challenges: a developing pandemic, a looming financial hardship, and a national movement against racism, social injustice and violence. These three challenges hit our students harder than they hit us, and we must respond in ways to ensure their education is not just an option, but the best option for these times.
Our students not only need but truly want their education. In a survey ICT ran in May, just before the close of the spring semester, 92 percent of our students across the system planned to return to NMSU this fall and another 6 percent were considering returning. From the 4,150 students who responded to the survey, nearly 85 percent were from the Las Cruces campus, and two-thirds of those were expecting to have at least a junior status in the fall.
So, the conclusion is that our students want to come back, but they also want options.
- 46 percent preferred face-to-face classes. Reasons for this preference varied from not learning well online to studying in disciplines that are best suited to experiential learning, like music, dance or nursing.
- 28 percent said they wanted their classes in a hybrid format that combined face-to-face with distance learning. This option was viewed as a way to remain flexible in uncertain times.
- 26 percent said they wanted their classes online, often for reasons relating to their health or the health of their families.
A longing for a return to “normal” might drive some of these numbers. In coming back to NMSU, students will return to the place they were when things last felt normal. Although the pandemic has changed many things, it has not changed everything. It cannot change the essential nature and vitality of college students, or their desire to be among and learn from others, or their passion to change the world. They are irrepressible.
NMSU’s mission also remains the same, and we cannot serve that mission by being just an online university. We have learned much about this novel coronavirus, and we are educators who know how to use knowledge to achieve an end. The coronavirus pandemic will end, and we will weather the financial crisis. But will we find the passion, commitment and wisdom to correct the wrongs of our society? Will we end racism, discrimination, injustice and violence? Will we create a better future? As educators, we know that learning is part of the solution. We can’t fail our students who, by virtue of circumstance, are seeking an education during these unprecedented times. We can show them how to respond to multiple parallel crises with resilience, with boldness, with kindness. We can show them that together we can address the bigger questions of our times. Together, we can shape the future.
Our students have been strong voices against injustice these past few weeks. They are a reminder to be smart and fearless during troubled times. We have an opportunity to support them as they raise awareness of social injustice at a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Friday, June 19, at the Corbett Center Student Union outdoor stage. This vigil is sponsored jointly by NMSU’s Black Programs and ASNMSU. It coincides with traditional Juneteenth celebrations and will include a call for voter registration. Be Bold, Be Kind, Be Safe.