Universities boast 61% favorability, ranking 8th among 17 industries and institutions included in the 2020 Garrity Perception Survey

By The Garrity Group


State Universities Fair Well Among Favorability of New Mexico Residents

Universities boast 61% favorability, ranking 8th among 17 industries and institutions included in the 2020 Garrity Perception Survey

New Mexico residents have a favorable opinion of state universities according to the 2020 Garrity Perception Survey (GPS). Among the 17 industries surveyed, the state universities are the eighth most favorable institution in the state. Based on the survey, 61 percent of New Mexico residents are favorable of state universities. The scientific survey among New Mexico residents was conducted in late January 2020.

Dr. Joseph Shepard, President of Western New Mexico University joins Tom Garrity, President and CEO of The Garrity Group Public Relations to discuss the findings.

Full Transcript

Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:00:05] New Mexico is home to seven universities, three are research for our comprehensive universities, and during the fall of twenty nineteen, those universities educated more than fifty one thousand students and associates, bachelors, masters and doctoral programs. Today, favorability of state universities is the focus of our conversation as we dig into the Twenty Twenty Garrity Perceptions survey. This is Tom Garrity. Today I had the chance and the opportunity to speak with Dr. Joe Sheppard. He is the president of Western New Mexico University, as well as chairman of the New Mexico Council of University Presidents. Welcome and thank you for your time today, Dr. Shepherd.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:00:45] Tom, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:00:48] Before we jump into the twenty 20 G.P.S. findings, will you please provide our viewers and listeners a little bit more information about Western New Mexico University?

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:00:57] Well, Western New Mexico University, to your viewers, might be no more affectionately as the Harvard of the Hill. And I say that simply because we’re located in southwest New Mexico, down in Silver City. Although our range spreads well beyond our region and into the state as well as the nation and international for about seventy two degree programs, beginning with the only institution in the state of New Mexico that has the authority to offer everything from adult education. For that person who didn’t receive their high school diploma all the way up through the master’s degree. We are not a doctorial granting institution, but everything from the high school years all the way through the master years, we can do so, including associates degree certificates, vocational training, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and so forth. Our university was founded based off of teaching. Founding Fathers wanted to have teaching as the forefront of the institution when it was founded and has been around for over a hundred twenty eight years. The institution has of course changed and migrated along with the times and we’re gonna talk a little bit more about that in this program. But how covered nineteen, I think has been a disruptive force to all of higher education and as well as society. We’re no exception to that. About three thousand students call Western New Mexico University their home as they take their classes from all over the world.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:02:19] Majority come from our five county area of southwest for southwest New Mexico and have them have opportunities for everything from nursing to social work to the very sciences only program in the state, offering botany, for example, to other things of business and your standard MBA courses. So quite a bit of information there. Thank you for allowing me that opportunity. Tell us a little bit about it.

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:02:47] Oh, you bet. Plus, it’s one of the most scenic picturesque campuses, with all due respect to the it to the other universities. I just kind of tucked away in the mountains. It’s really quite beautiful as well.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:03:00] You know, Tom, I’m glad you mentioned that. Let me talk a little bit about the surrounding areas, because many people have they may have lived in New Mexico all of their lives and have never ventured down south and particularly here, it’s not a it’s not on the freeway. You have to make it a point to go there. And either you’re going to if you’re coming from the northern part of New Mexico, you’re going to drive down I.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:03:18] Twenty five and. Right. Pass through the consequence. You have to make a decision to go over the famous black range full of its curves and pines, and Aspen topping out at about 9000 feet at Emery Pass and then down into Silver City at about six thousand feet.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:03:33] Or do you go the way of Hach past the green chili fields up through Deming and then up north through the mining area to get to Silver City? Either way, both are wonderful journeys for those who want to embark on that. And finally on that, of course, we boast of the first wilderness area, the Heela wilderness area, which is part of the three million Heela national three million acre Heela National Forest. Right on our doorstep. And we are we are the gateway to that.

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:04:02] Well, that’s fantastic. I’ve been there many times and it’s always a favorite trip of mine to take. When we look at the 20 20 Perceptions survey, which was actually taken scientific sample of New Mexico residents in January of this year, it showed that state universities ranked eighth out of 17 industries and institutions. And it reveals that 61 percent of New Mexico residents are favorable towards universities. Your initial take on why universities are so favorable?

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:04:33] Well, that also tells you that 39 percent think the opposite of that. But I’ll take the 61 percent. Higher education has always been favorably received by the population. New Mexico is no different. I would assume those trends would vary a little bit throughout the nation. But if we take a look at what grows economy, what grows economy is education. And I have to mention that that would include all education. I’m pleased to see New Mexico moving toward early childhood. That ties into K through 12 ties to us because we. Ultimately are only as good as that for which is coming to our institution and back to the public service. I think the public recognizes that if you wish to diversify this economy, you need to have a strong higher education. Facebook and other type entities do not come or the spaceport do not come to New Mexico unless there is a able pool of people to which to draw who have that level of education that they’re seeking. And when I say education time, I think we also need to mention the whole vocational side of education. Welders, electricians, plumbers and so forth are equally as important as those of us who end up with doctorates. But I think that that’s probably the primary reason is education has always enjoyed a high status place in our society.

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:05:52] Well, you know, when we first conducted the Garrity Perception Survey in 2011, state universities actually had a 71 percent favorability among New Mexico residents. It slipped about 10 points over the last 10 years. In your role as chair of the Council of University Presidents. Any insights why those numbers might have slipped over the last 10 years?

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:06:13] Well, part of it’s reality and part of it’s perception. And what I mean by that is we as people, we get our information from social media and so forth. And over the last 10 years that social media has grown in its impact. And so it’s no longer relying upon your static, if I will, your static news media sources, your Albuquerque Journal, your local TV stations. And so but we’ve also slipped in terms of what we’re providing to the public from a perception point of view. And I think we’ve had some bad news stories over the last 10 years as institutions struggle with internal issues that they’ve dealt with. You and your firm know very clearly crisis management, how you manage that. Communication matters in terms of perception and perception becomes reality. What we as universities need to do, I believe, is to make sure we tell our story a little better because we have a great story to tell. And I don’t think we’ve been doing that well enough. And I think we’ve been allowing others to tell that story. And the competition, of course, is quite, quite strong out there on that. There’s also a second movement that has occurred nationally, and that is the question of the value of higher education, what it means a degree. And so, for example, if I’m a welder and I go and get a welding certificate, then I can go down to Hobbs, New Mexico, and work in an oil patch. And I can make far more than I could as a teacher in our public education system. Then all of a sudden, people start to say, well, why? Why do I need a degree? I can get the certificate. I can go go work. And that is and that is indeed part of the rhetoric and part of the reality that we’re facing that prior to it, that higher education, there are some people questioning about its role, postcode it and we’ll get into that. I know shortly here that that’s going to change. And I think higher education actually becomes more relevant. We’ll discuss some of those ideas actually, while we just jumped to it.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:08:05] Right now, you know, with the COVID environment. Yes. Providing historic challenges for a variety of institutions, including universities. What are some of those top challenges that you were alluding to? That’s really taking up valuable time for you and your team.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:08:22] One of the one of the factors that, of course, has happened is both K through 12 as well as higher education. Everybody was sent home. Online education became prevalent. However, that our online education, as many a parent has found out, having to basically homeschool their own kid is, we assume, and that their finding is not the most productive way of going about education. I want to talk about K through 12 because it does tie to higher education. They’ll move into higher education of Europe. If you’re a working parent and your son or daughter was sent home last spring and for some schools are our home online in the fall. You’re trying to you’re scrambling, trying to figure out two things. One, how to teach them. And if you don’t have that background in teaching you, you’re worried about that. In the second thing you’re struggling with is how do you educate your kid at home? Wow. You’re a you yourself are trying to make a living to fly food so far for them. Now I’m going to move it into the higher education arena. And here’s I think it’s going to change higher education. Imagine if you’re a person, you’re laid off. I want to pick September because right now we’re in the middle. We’re beginning our fall semester. You’re laid off in September. And you go to an industry that says to you, look, you can only buy our product twice a year, once in August. Once in January. And, oh, by the way, it’s going to take you four, six, eight years to get done before it will have value to you. You’re going to say, wait a second. I got a little kids at home. I need to feed them. I need something that’s going to propel me forward while I’m unemployed and take advantage of this time. And I need to be back working by December. I can’t wait till January to start taking your classes and working on my degree. It has fundamentally changed that piece of the equation. And I think you’re going to see more institutions move toward shorter class segments, certificate based and so forth, to get the popular population educated. The second thing I think that’s going to be fundamentally different is how we educate and how we go about that process before our faculty, many faculty at many institutions were strongly against online education. We had, for example, Western New Mexico University. We moved in 2011 from eight percent of our courses online to pre Cobh at forty nine percent of our forces online. You can receive entire degree programs from us, but understand what we have. We have what’s called a bimodal population, meaning we have a group of students who are aged 18 to 24. We’ll call those the traditional students above 20. For the nontraditional students, nontraditional students were primarily about the give me a degree kind of approach. I just I just need that to advance in my life. The British all were more about the socialization aspect of pre coalbed. We actually had students living on campus taking one hundred percent of their courses online. They wanted the university dynamic. And we’re seeing that come out in the literature as well as out in in higher education about students are quite upset about paying for a product that they thought they’d be on campus, living in the dormitory, socializing student life, all those activities and wondering why am I paying the tuition that I’m paying to go to school? Postcode koban. What’s going to happen? Well, if you were to ask me pre covered whether my family were 100 percent into this online education site, you would have had a resounding no postcode it. What we have found is you’d have more of a likelihood of an understanding that needs to be part of the educational equation. Nationally, I think even internationally, what we’re going to see is a consolidation of higher education. And what you’re going to see is partnerships formed with, well, not for profit, for profit and public institutions, each having certain expertise and being able to provide that level of education. If you take a look at pre COGAT University like Grand Canyon University.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:12:24] University of Phenix growing rapidly in size. Western Governors University growing rapidly in size. Hundred percent online. The reason for which they choose those programs, which are most likely to be easier to implement in terms of online, you typically see the business programs, maybe educational programs. Obviously, you’re not going to see a welding program that can’t be done online. But now what you’re going to see, I think, is partnerships formed between institutions like Western, with institutions like those institutions I just mentioned. We’re upon we may outsource some work forces back and forth. They may outsource to us. And you’re going to see the higher education market, in my mind, begin to shrink in terms of the total number of universities because it’s unsustainable. Let’s talk about New Mexico, because I know that’s near and dear to our hearts. We have, I believe, 17. I think, you know, I’m sorry, we have 15 community colleges. We have seven universities. We have tribal schools and other things, too. A total number of higher education institutions of 32 outreaching to two million people. We can’t sustain that. And we’re seeing them put that with what’s happening with the budget at the state level. And I see consolidation occurring. So a lot of things are moving. A lot of moving parts there, Tom. But I think there’s and I know I gave a very long winded answer, but it’s a very complex thing that’s going on. And I haven’t even talked about sports.

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:13:46] Yeah, I have. And why would love to talk about sports. You hit on so many different topics. Let’s briefly kind of do a peel off on consolidation right now. There are a number of universities that have campuses in different parts of the state. You talk about consolidation. Is that one of the areas where we could start to see those first forms of consolidation and partnership?

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:14:11] Yes, I think you’ll see consolidations begin as follows. I need to take a step slightly back before I go into what I mean by as follows. We have to understand what universities and community colleges and branch campuses and twiggs and learning centers and all these sorts of things are. In many communities, they serve a function beyond higher education. I’ll take my little university in Silver City. Could you get an education online without having a university in Silver City? And the answer is obviously yes. But what does that mean to the community and region? Remember, universities in small towns like Silver City or Las Vegas and places like that are also cultural centers. We provide those concerts that occur in our fine arts building. We might provide the movies for that particular community. We might provide festivals and other sorts of things. We might provide lifelong learning opportunities. We might provide symposiums and conventions and all those pieces. And I haven’t even mentioned getting a degree yet. So it’s more than just saying how many degrees are you producing and how many credit hours do you have? It’s bigger than that. We also are economic drivers, both in the area of research which you don’t see show up on a diploma as well as in areas of. What we bring to the community in terms of our. People coming in and supplying the tax base and buying food at the grocery store and all those other pieces. So they instantly dry that up has greater ramifications than simply saying I can get a degree elsewhere. Now, let me go to your question, because your question is about consolidation, and that indeed will occur. I believe it has to occur. And if I take a look at that, I think you’re going to see the first phase being consolidation of staff and processes. So, for example, right now, if we all have a computer staff and we all have a, you know, a human resources and all those various things that you’d expect to university have, functionally, what you’re going to see is you’re gonna start to see systems staffing, if you will. I might outsource my computer functions to New Mexico State. My staff, who might be listening to this, might be shocked. And I’m not trying to telegraph a message. I’m simply saying that that is an example of what could easily occur when people begin to worry about that. So I have to be sensitive about what I’m truly saying. But you’ll see that occur. You also might start to see other types consolidations. So, for example, right now, maybe at Western New Mexico University, I’m a math class. Again, I’m not telegraphing anything, Tom, but I have a math class that might only have six students in it. Meanwhile, up in Highlands, they may have a math class. It might only have six students in it. And so instead of both of us hiring a professor each, we may consolidate and hire one professor to teach all twelve students now that we understand a little bit about that business. So I think that’s going to be your phase one in terms of low hanging fruit, of how we consolidate staff functions as well as fact functions. Phase two, I think, is actually physical. I think we will start to see a consolidation of physical space where maybe some of our institutions are no longer no longer operational and that that that will occur a little different.

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:17:25] And consolidation is something that is happening in a variety of different industries, you know, including your earlier this week. The Albuquerque Journal announced that they were consolidating their printing presses with the Santa Fe New Mexican while stating that editorial content wouldn’t be separated. So your visionary approach for what could happen or what will happen with universities is also being seen by other industries as well. When you look at the universities and really during this time, it’s all about building trust among students and their families. What do universities need to do in order to build that trust with those key audiences?

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:18:06] Well, trust and trust is is a is a long game, isn’t it? It’s easier to lose trust than it is to gain. I can right now on this on this interview, say something and instantly lose trust. It took me 10 years to develop. And so when we talk about that, credibility is develop both incrementally, but lost in chunks. What I mean by incrementally is universities have to be transparent in how we go about both our successes and our failures, because I trust you if I know that you’re telling me the truth about the things that are hard to tell the truth about. Right. If you tell me the truth about your failures, I have a greater level of trust that I can believe you and universities need to take a lesson from them. And so if universities are struggling and I think we do also need to send the message about our successes, no doubt about that.

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:18:55] I think that needs to be part of it. In fact, maybe that’s the bulk of it. But we also to be transparent when we go astray or we go wrong. And so with our parents and with our students, you know, one of the elements of, I think Cobert as it as an example. So a lot of parents are concerned about their son or daughter living on college campuses. So if I say to the parent, look, come to Western. Grand County only has 72 covered cases, it’s very safe. Nothing bad’s gonna happen to your son or daughter. And then your son or daughter goes to Western and they end up infected with it. Wait a second. You said I was gonna be safe. You have my son or daughter came to Western. The better messaging is to say, look, I can I can reduce the probabilities that your son or daughter might get covered by appropriate quarantining face mass, social justice, etc.. I can’t eliminate the risk. And if that’s your expectation, this may not be the place for you. But if they do get covered, here’s what we’re going to do about it. And again, build that trust by being honest about the realities that we’re faced with and being honest about what we’re going to do about it. And then the final piece. Well, and be honest in terms of managing expectation. And the final piece is to be honest, when an event occurs and be out front with that. So mom and dad are finding out about it from somebody else.

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:20:17] Great stuff. Finally, I know you do a lot of hiking throughout New Mexico by your backdrop, I think is testament to that. What is a great diamond in the rough when it comes to your favorite tracks?

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:20:29] The Land of Enchantment, the land of and chairman has so, so many jewels. The background behind me is one of those jewels. And that is Jordan Hot Springs. It’s a beautiful, hot spring that is located right off the banks of the middle fork of the Hilo River. The Hilo River is made up of three foot forks, East, Middle and West. This one happens to be on the east floor. Great place to go. You head up to the cliff dwellings. There’s a place called T.J. Krelle Park Car there. And about seven miles later, as you’re crossing the middle fork 15 times off, on the right hand side will be Jordan Hot Springs. And that’s the scene behind me. And then, of course, yes, the teen crossing back in seven miles back, so total, 14 miles exhausted. You’ll get back to your car, but you’ll see one of the jewels of New Mexico located in the Hilo wilderness.

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:21:18] And so that’s just one of the many places and not far from western New Mexico University. Well, it’s a very I say short drive. It’s a short drive, but it’s a long drive because it’s winding curves. It’s a drive, I think only about 30 miles to get to the trailhead, maybe even less than that. But it takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there from from our kids. Dr. Shepherd, where can people learn more about Western New Mexico University?

 Dr. Joe Shepard, Western New Mexico University [00:21:43] Easiest places everybody likes to do is go out onto the web at www.WNMU.edu. And you can remember that if you think Western New Mexico University, that’s where you get that WNMU from. And that’s where we’re at. www.wnmu.edu. 

 Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group Public Relations [00:21:59] Dr Joe Shepard, president of Western New Mexico University, thank you very much for your time today. Tom, it’s always a pleasure to see you. Thank you for having me. You bet. For more insights about the Garrity Perception Survey, visit Garrity PR dot com.

Published August 23, 2020


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