The first presence in Lincoln County of ENMU was in the late 1940s, prior to the incorporation of the Village of Ruidoso. In the summer of 1940 and 1941, ENMU held college classes for teachers at the Ruidoso Athletic Club, one of Lincoln County’s early public schools. In the late 1950s, ENMU held theater classes in Ruidoso under a large tent located at what is now the USFS Smokey Bear Ranger District Headquarters. A decade later, in 1968, the dream of a college grew. A local citizen task force tried without success to attract a private college to the site on what is now the Kokopelli Golf Course and Club House. At that location, 150 acres were offered to Franklin-Pearce College, a small private liberal arts college in Vermont, but the plan never came together.
In the early 1980s, residents began an effort to bring a community college to the area. The Rotary Club appointed the Community Development Committee (CDC) headed by Ray Bishop. Members included Rod Adamson, Bill Karn, Richard Sandoval and Dick Swenor. According to Adamson, Buddy Bundik (Texas New Mexico Power) and Don Shaw (Pioneer Bank) were also active with the endeavor to bring a college here. The committee was trying to attract new businesses to the Ruidoso area, and they sought a year-round business that would stimulate the economy.
Initially, the CDC contacted UNM, NMSU and ENMU. On November 10, 1982, representatives from ENMU met with the Rotary Club. Portales reported that no new community colleges could be founded by state law, but that an off-campus instructional center could be established. A December meeting decided that high school students and school superintendents from Capitan, Carrizozo, Hondo and Ruidoso and retirees would be surveyed along with parents, individuals and businesses associated with the Ruidoso Chamber of Commerce.
To attend college at that time, Lincoln County residents had to attend UNM, ENMU in Portales or Roswell or NMSU in Las Cruces or Alamogordo. Driving to these locations placed a great financial and time burden on working people, parents and non-traditional families. Similarly, Taos created a UNM Branch in 1990 to avoid commuting and piecemeal programs from colleges in the region.
To create a community college, the CDC had to follow the process outlined by the New Mexico Commission on Higher Education. The Ruidoso Municipal School Board members Dave Parks, Rod Adamson, Dr. Lynn Willard, Mike Morris, Stormy Edwards and Don Shollander became involved. Sandy Gladden, the director of Region IX, was also in the forefront of the effort.
ENMU Vice President for Planning Everett Frost was asked to assist in creating the survey to document the need and desire for a community college. Surveys were conducted in July 1990. The “Postsecondary Education Survey” asked, “If basic college credit courses (i.e. English, mathematics, psychology, biology, etc.) were available in Ruidoso at a convenient time for you, would you be interested in enrolling in some of them?”
Survey results were reported in the July 1990 “Off-Campus Instruction Center Feasibility Study.” Comments made by Ruidoso High School students varied. Among the few negative comments was one from a student who said: “I believe that the people of Ruidoso would complain about a college in this area.” Others were more positive: “It would boost our economy tremendously and is the best idea in this town” and “A college is a future.”
The next step was an election with a mill levy. Campaign materials paid for by the “Ruidoso Campus-ENMU Steering Committee” stated “Vote Yes Ruidoso Campus ENMU,” noting that “Higher Education is the Foundation for Economic Development.” Materials also noted that it would only cost 1 mill and that for property appraised at $60,000 only $20 in taxes would result.
On February 5, 1991 the Ruidoso Municipal School District held an election for the college board. Also on the ballot was the question to establish a mill levy for the college. The tax levy vote was 614 for and 225 against.
After the election, the campus started looking for a Campus Director. Dr. Jim Miller applied and after local and Portales interviews in mid-June, Dr. Miller was offered the position and began work on July 15, 1991. Classes began in late August 1991.