The goal is 60,000 new college degrees by the year 2020, and the people behind the project have no illusions that it will be easy.
They describe their goal as “big” and “audacious,” but they believe it can be done.
“The power of the big goal is that it really does provide a rallying point for the community,” said Angelo Gonzales, associate director of the Center for Education Policy Research at the University of New Mexico. He has been selected to head the new initiative.
The project, called “Mission: Graduate,” is one of the largest ever undertaken by United Way of Central New Mexico.
But while United Way will be the backbone of the project, it is a collaboration with UNM, Central New Mexico Community College, Albuquerque Public Schools, local business leaders and Mayor Richard Berry. United Way will be the primary funding source, at least initially, and has experience bringing the community together around big issues like domestic violence.
The co-chairs are Kathie Winograd, CNM president, and Jim Hinton, president and CEO of Presbyterian Health Services.
The goal is to add 60,000 new college degrees – from associate degrees to Ph.D.s – in the Albuquerque metro area by 2020, above and beyond the degrees that would occur naturally through population growth.
Thirty-eight percent of working-age people in the metro area now have an associate’s degree or higher, which Gonzales said is around the national average. The goal of 60,000 new degrees was chosen because it is the number of degrees that would bring the metro area up to 50 percent degree attainment among working-age adults. This would place Albuquerque in the company of cities like Seattle and Raleigh, N.C.
The idea is that more educated adults can help expand the economy, which means better economic circumstances and outcomes for children entering the education system.
“Increasing graduation and college attainment rates in Central New Mexico will lead to a more informed and engaged citizenry, as well as a workforce capable of transforming central New Mexico’s economy into one of the most vibrant and healthy economies in the nation,” according to a statement by project leaders.
The leaders have not settled on specific strategies for reaching the goal but have decided their efforts will involve early childhood education, the K-12 system and the higher education system. Part of the goal is to streamline the different, fragmented programs that currently exist to improve education outcomes in New Mexico.
Ed Rivera, president and chief operating officer of United Way of Central New Mexico, cited findings from the UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research about the lack of cohesion among education programs.
“There’s a lot of things going on in the area of education and support to kids, but one of their (the research bureau’s) major conclusions was that it’s all disconnected,” Rivera said.
The metro area, for the purposes of the project, includes Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia and Torrance counties, which are home to about 43 percent of the state’s population. Those counties vary significantly in their educational attainment levels, from a high of 40 percent of adults with degrees in Bernalillo County to 22 percent in Torrance County.
Ethnic disparities are even more pronounced. Among Anglo adults, 49 percent have a college degree, compared to 21 percent of Hispanic adults and 25 percent of American Indian adults.
Part of reaching the goal will involve improvements for traditional students – getting more students successfully through high school and into college, and then getting those students successfully through college. But efforts will also focus on helping adults who have some college credits and are now in the workforce to finish their degrees.
Hinton is one of several private company presidents and/or CEOs involved in the project. He said that, hypothetically, Presbyterian might pledge to help 100 of its employees achieve a degree as part of the effort. A similar effort was undertaken in Louisville, Ky., in which church congregations pledged to deliver a set number of degrees from their congregations.
The group will formally launch the initiative in August before the start of the school year. The launch will include publication of a community report card to highlight the current state of education in the metro area, as well as presentations at community events.
“It will take time, but with steady leadership, continuous communication, a commitment to shared measurement, aligned actions and the support of the United Way of Central New Mexico, we will realize our vision,” the project statement said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal