After an exhaustive executive search, Dr. Michael Elrod was selected to succeed Dr. Jim Miller as dean of ENMU-Ruidoso in January 2005. Dr. Elrod did not have to move far. His previous position was the campus community and workforce development officer just down the road at Dona Ana Branch Community College. While the physical distance was not far, the challenges of steering the College to meet the increasing influx of students, securing the necessary capital improvement funds and developing new in-demand career and technical programs in a rural environment was a world away from Las Cruces.
Dr. Elrod brought political savvy to the College at an opportune time. In 2005, the New Mexico legislature approved branch campus status to ENMU-Ruidoso. The now-Provost Elrod was entrusted with a budget separate from the main Portales campus. This autonomy, in turn, allowed the college to secure emergency capital outlay funding for campus renovations that came in handy when a large section of the south wall of the campus collapsed due to the ground giving way after the unusually wet monsoon season of 2006.
Renovations had been underway when the wall caved in. Projected increases in the number of students and plans for new programs necessitated the addition of classrooms, offices for faculty, lab and library space, a culinary kitchen and construction trades shop were carved out of the original True Value hardware store. These improvements were made possible through the political wrangling of capital improvement funds from Santa Fe. The cost of the original renovations was less than $120 per square foot. The repairs to the collapsed wall cost just under one million dollars. Under Provost Elrod, both projects came in on time and within budget.
Addition to faculty and staff reinforced ENMU-Ruidoso’s growing reputation as a branch community college. Full-time instructors increased four-fold, positions for part-time instructors doubled and staff, especially in student services and advising, increased by 57 percent. Department heads were named to oversee programs and guide part-time instructors. The range and types of classes increased as well as more faculty were hired for their particular expertise from the community.
Among the innovations in curriculum was the introduction of online classes. Today students from not only rural Lincoln County but from across the world attend classes at ENMU-Ruidoso through a computer. Changing demographics also required a shift from night-time to day-time classes as younger students, straight out of high school and GED recipients took advantage of the New Mexico Lottery Scholarships and enrolled in college for the first time. Additional certificate and degree programs were launched in fields including construction trades, hospitality and tourism and culinary arts and natural resources. The result of these changes translated into an increase in enrollment from 600 to over 1,000 students.
Never far from Dr. Elrod’s mind was that ENMU-Ruidoso was a “community” college. The first local Community College Board, made up of local residents, was inducted in 2006. As elected officials, the board was an important component in determining the college’s future. Dr. Elrod also believed that it was important to share the success of graduates with the community. The first local graduate commencement convocation was held in 2006. Today, the commencement for GED, ENMU-Ruidoso and local students from ENMU takes place at the Spencer Theater. Dignitaries from across the region serve as keynote speakers for the event that attracts hundreds of family members and friends of the graduating class.
Much of Dr. Elrod’s time in Ruidoso was dedicated to expanding the campus onto the property across the street from Spencer Theater. The opportunity arose when representatives from the Bancroft family approached the college after the passing of Jacqueline Spencer. Many entities were involved in what would have been an innovative partnership between private and state entities. Despite numerous memorandums of understandings and meetings with state representatives, the final transfer remained unresolved when Dr. Elrod retired at the end of 2009.
Dr. Elrod continues to lobby on behalf of ENMU-Ruidoso and other community colleges through the New Mexico Association of Community Colleges in his new home of Santa Fe. He may be in a world far away from Ruidoso, but his influence remains close at hand.