Higher ed secretary worried

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Says NM slipping in rankings

By Martin Salazar

State Higher Education Secretary José Garcia says New Mexico’s higher education system is failing its citizens and he urged officials at Luna Community College to work together to turn things around.

Speaking at Luna’s board meeting on Wednesday, Garcia said the statistic that bothers him the most and that keeps him up at night is that for the first time in the state’s history, the older generation — age 35 to 64 — is better educated than the younger generation. In fact, he said, New Mexico has the worst improvement rate in the nation from 1990 to 2010 in the percentage of individuals 25 and older who have a bachelor’s degree or better.

Garcia said that over the last 20 years New Mexico has been going down in almost every category that measures how the state is doing in higher education. He said that as long as he is the state’s higher education secretary he will devote his time and energy toward reversing that trend.

Garcia provided a laundry list of statistics to illustrate his point.

• New Mexico’s four-year public graduation rate is 11.9 percent, compared to 31.3 percent for the nation as a whole. The state’s six-year graduation rate is 40.6 percent, compared to 56 percent for the U.S.

• When it comes to first time freshmen returning for their second year, New Mexico’s four-year schools ranked 42 out of 50 in 2010; New Mexico’s two-year schools ranked 38 out of 50.

•  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2012 gave New Mexico a C for meeting labor market demand; Ds for student access and success and for efficiency and cost effectiveness and an F for transparency and accountability.

• New Mexico ranks 48th in the nation in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher, down from its ranking of 43 in the nation in 1990. In 2010, 21 percent of New Mexicans had a BA or higher.

• New Mexico ranks 48th in the nation in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a graduate or professional degree, down from its ranking of 20th in 1990. In 2010, 5.6 percent of New Mexicans ages 25 to 34 had earned a graduate or professional degree.

“For the rest of this century, we have major challenges for the generation coming up...,” Garcia said. “We know what we have to do.”

Garcia said one of his priorities has been revising the funding formula to reward colleges and universities for their success in graduating students, rather than merely the number of students they enroll. The funding formula is how the state determines how much funding each college and university will receive.

Garcia said colleges and universities need to start awarding more degrees and certificates. He said they currently aren’t graduating enough students, despite the fact that New Mexico spends more per capita on higher education than other states.

He said New Mexico has a high proportion of students who traditionally struggle to complete a degree, such as students who are eligible for Pell Grants. The funding formula is going to reward schools for graduating those students, Garcia said.

He also said that employers want employees with training in science, technology, engineering, math and health fields. Colleges and universities will get more funding for graduating students in these fields, the higher education secretary said.

Garcia told Luna officials that if the state moves in this direction, he feels it can stop the backward trend. He acknowledged that there are pockets of excellence at every institution, but he said that overall, New Mexico’s colleges and universities must do more.

“Where we are right now is not a good spot to be in,” Garcia said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

He said two-year colleges must play a key role in getting students up to speed so they can compete.

“Your job is to take students and get them college ready,” he said.

Referring to Luna, specifically, Garcia pointed out that northern New Mexico’s economy is struggling, and he said Luna needs to partner with other higher education institutions, with employers and with other economic development groups to improve northern New Mexico’s economy.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Garcia said. He told Luna board members that their job is to set goals for the president, and he stressed that with so much work needing to be done, they need to be working together and not apart.