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Editorial: NM needs to learn that college ends in degrees

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If the ultimate mission of a four-year university is to award degrees, there is no question New Mexico’s system of higher education is failing.

According to new data in the Chronicle of Higher Education, even given six years, just three states graduate a lower percentage of their public university students. (Alaska, last year’s last-place finisher, was kept off this year’s list because of a glitch.)

New Mexico graduates just over 45 percent of its students in six years. The national average is 63 percent.

The New Mexico Council of University Presidents breaks down the graduation rates at the state’s four-year schools this way: UNM, 49 percent; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, 44 percent; New Mexico State University, 43 percent; Eastern New Mexico University, 29 percent; Western New Mexico University, 23 percent; and New Mexico Highlands University, 18 percent. (Northern New Mexico College has added four-year programs but was not included in the university breakdowns.)

New Mexico has 18 two-year and seven four-year postsecondary institutions, which in 2012 earned “D” and “F” grades from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Institute for a Competitive Workforce, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce affiliate. Those grades, and these weak graduation numbers, should have New Mexico lawmakers and the state’s Higher Education Department asking if a poor state’s meager resources are being spread too thin, if centers for post-secondary education are operating as jobs centers rather than degree producers, if colleges are trying to be all things to all students rather than, well, colleges.

With less than a 50-50 shot at graduating on even the long-term plan, New Mexico’s public universities are more places where you can maybe take some classes, not places where you are on a clearly defined path to get the degree you need for a better job/life. (At Western and Highlands, you’ve got just about a 1 in 5 chance.)

And that, in turn, is not a good use of public and private resources. That is if, after all, the ultimate mission of a four-year university is to turn out students with college degrees.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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