The state’s largest community college more than doubled the number of certificates and degrees it issued in just one year, a spike driven primarily by new awards meant to keep students on the graduation track.
Central New Mexico Community College granted 13,777 degrees and certificates in 2016-17 – up from 6,699 in 2015-16, according to numbers provided by the school.
While there was a significant jump in associate’s degrees, certificates accounted for the bulk of the increase.
That includes two certificate options added for the 2016-17 academic year: General Studies and Health, Wellness & Public Safety. Each is considered a “stackable” certificate that helps mark progress toward larger goals, according to a CNM spokesman.
President Kathie Winograd said the new certificates also reflect the statewide effort to ease transfers among New Mexico’s public higher education institutions.
For example, the CNM General Studies certificate covers the “general education core” accepted by all state schools enroute to a two- or four-year degree. At CNM, it applies toward any associate of arts or associate of science degree, according to the course catalog.
“All the data we’re seeing from around the country suggests that if students find themselves on a pathway and have successes along the way, they’re more likely to graduate – not only with an associate’s degree but a bachelor’s degree,” Winograd said in an interview.
“We have begun to understand those successes are very important to keeping students on track; it says to them, ‘You’ve got your general education core; you’re doing great. We’ll make sure we’ll provide an opportunity and let you know you’re ready to transfer or ready to move into that next level.’ ”
CNM also saw a jump in associate’s degrees: to 5,190 in 2016-17, up from 3,885 the prior year.
Winograd credited the increases to a culture shift. While CNM still welcomes “lifelong” learners who sign up for a class here and there, school leaders have increasingly emphasized graduating students.
The school created comprehensive student resource centers on each of its campuses; refined class schedules to promote progression toward a degree; and reduced credit-hour requirements for some associate degrees.
CNM also began automatically awarding degrees and certificates when students met the requirements; before 2011, CNM relied on students to file paper graduation applications for processing at multiple departments.
But Winograd noted that still only 30 percent of CNM students are graduating with a certificate or degree.
“We’ve improved a lot, but the reality is we still have a long way to go,” she said. “We need to really focus on getting 100 percent of the students who enter CNM to graduate, and we’re not there yet.”