Lincoln County is the eighth largest county in the fifth largest state in the country. The largest community is Ruidoso with a population of approximately 9,500, high in the mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. While those familiar with the area recite horseracing, skiing and the art of the Hurds and Wyeths with its rolling hills rising up from the Hondo Valley, much of Lincoln County lies below 6500 feet in plains and open range. At the northern edge of the county, approximately 75 miles from Ruidoso, lies Corona, New Mexico.
One of the challenges for a rural college like ENMU-Ruidoso is staying in contact with outlying communities like Corona. While Corona is in Lincoln County, it is not within the college’s tax district. Many students from Corona travel hundreds of miles a week to attend classes in Ruidoso. Their long trip is made more arduous by the route: the two-lane US 54, heavily traveled by truck traffic and made hazardous, especially at night, by wildlife crossing the open country. Several students made this trip including two that were graduated with associate’s degrees from ENMU-Ruidoso going on to earn bachelor’s degrees and returning to rural New Mexico as teachers.
Other students from Corona were able to further their education by ITV (Interactive TV) classes. Upper level and graduate classes through ITV began in 1995 where students could watch professors in Portales as they taught their classes. Although ITV classes were discontinued in 1999, online classes remain a popular option. In 2004, ENMU-Ruidoso joined the NM Virtual college (now the NMLN or New Mexico Learning Network). A consortium of colleges and universities throughout New Mexico, the NMLN provides information and resources to students across the state. All that is needed for an online class is a computer and internet access. Today, students from around the world take classes towards an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree and interact with instructors and other students. High school students are able to take and concurrent enrollment courses, allowing them to receive high school and college credit for the same class in person and via a computer.
Computers also play an important role in disseminating information for students in rural communities like Corona. University libraries and databases are available online. Non-credit classes are also available for fun and professional development through institutions like ENMU-Ruidoso and partnering companies like ed2go and Gatlin Education Services. Federal stimulus funds through the Workforce Investment Act allow for under- and unemployed residents to be re-trained in evolving, high demand occupational fields online. ENMU-Ruidoso works closely with the local New Mexico Workforce Connection office in Ruidoso to help those seeking work in areas such as cyber security and renewable energy. The Workforce Connection in Ruidoso serves as the district headquarters for eastern New Mexico and provides employment services to rural areas such as Corona.
Not all information need be academic or skill-based. ENMU-Ruidoso Community Education offers classes taught by Ruidoso and Corona residents on topics such as yoga, photography, sewing, computers and painting. A film class shows movies made in New Mexico. Started in October 2009, a comedy, documentary, drama, film noir or musical is shown each month in the Village Hall. Westerns are particularly popular and the discussions afterwards are telling of the state of ranching and rural life today. The movies are free, and Friends of the Library pop popcorn and offer drinks to the audience.
Corona residents are equally involved in the development of ENMU-Ruidoso. Leaders like Betty Ann Bell travel to Ruidoso to serve on boards and let the community know what Corona wants and would like to see this community college bring to this small but important enclave. As long as there is a desire and a need, ENMU-Ruidoso is committed to serving all the residents of Lincoln County, whether it be scholastic, professional or just for fun.