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Schools aim to boost college grads by 60,000

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An unusual joint meeting of four educational boards was filled with hope and enthusiasm about increasing the number of college degrees in central New Mexico by 60,000 by 2020, although some concerns and questions were raised.

The governing bodies of Albuquerque Public Schools, Rio Rancho Public Schools, the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College gathered Tuesday to discuss Mission: Graduate. The backbone of the effort is United Way of Central New Mexico, and several education and business interests have signed on, including the Journal.

Leaders have not decided what strategies will be used, but the intent is to bring together a large group of community organizations and channel everyone’s efforts toward a common goal.

The general tenor of the meeting was hopeful, but some concerns were raised, particularly the absence of the state Public Education Department in the effort and concerns about whether all these newly credentialed workers would be able to find good jobs.

Members of both school boards raised concerns the effort might falter if the PED does not support it. APS and RRPS have recently butted heads with the state over its new teacher evaluation system.

“The glaring absence for me was the absence of PED being represented here, in light of our recent struggles with the PED,” said RRPS board Vice President Don Schlichte. “It’s very disconcerting to me that they’re not at the table.”

CNM President Kathie Winograd, who is co-chairwoman of Mission: Graduate, said the PED was not initially included because the intent was to create a community-based effort that would focus on central New Mexico, rather than on politics and policy solutions. However, she said she had heard the concern from several people, and the issue would be on the group’s next agenda.

“It was not really intended to be a statewide initiative, nor was it intended to really get us thinking about the politics that we’re dealing with,” Winograd said. “Now, I’m a realist. I work for a public institution. You are all elected officials or have been put on your board by the governor. So I think it’s something we need to think about as we move into that phase.”

Some officials also asked whether job growth will keep up with the increase in graduates with degrees. The questions spawned discussion about whether educated workers will be left without jobs and forced to leave the state, or whether improved education results will draw more businesses to the state.

Bob Matteucci Jr., of the CNM board, framed the issue as a chicken-and-egg question.

“What comes first? Do we have an educated workforce and the businesses come, or do you have businesses that are looking for the workforce?” he said. “I think that’s a real tough thing. If I had either one or the other, I’d much rather train kids or young adults, and have them have an education where I really hope they don’t leave New Mexico, but at least give them that.”

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