SANTA FE – New Mexico students would have to apply to at least one college – or have other firm plans in place – to graduate from high school, under a bill introduced by the top Republican in the state House of Representatives.
House GOP floor leader Nate Gentry of Albuquerque said Monday that the legislation is based on behavioral economics and would likely lead to an increase in the number of New Mexico students pursuing postsecondary education.
Specifically, he cited a similar requirement in San Marcos, Texas, that led to a jump among high school students going on to college of 11 percentage points.
“This is intended to be a politically easy thing to move the needle,” Gentry told the Journal.
Total enrollment in New Mexico’s public higher education institutions has declined in each of the past six years – from about 155,000 students in 2010 to roughly 134,000 students last year – per state Higher Education Department data.
That’s likely at least partly due to an aging state population and a cut in the value of the state legislative lottery scholarship, which covers about 60 percent of tuition costs for students who qualify for the assistance.
In addition, the state’s high school graduation rate – 71 percent – was second-worst in the nation in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Only the District of Columbia posted a lower graduation rate.
The bill proposed by Gentry for the coming 30-day legislative session, House Bill 23, would make application to at least one college a high school graduation requirement for students entering the 11th grade, starting in the 2018-19 school year.
The requirement could also be met if a graduating student commits to attending a trade school or entering a branch of the military.
However, Gentry acknowledged that the bill in its current form doesn’t address the potential cost burden of submitting college applications. For instance, the University of New Mexico currently charges a $25 application fee for freshman or transfer students.
To address the cost issue, Gentry said he would study the possibility of having application fees waived for certain in-state schools.
Other jurisdictions have also pursued similar requirements for high school diplomas.
Earlier this year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed requiring proof of acceptance into college or the military, or a trade or “gap year” program, for graduating high school seniors.
“If you change expectations, it’s not hard for kids to adapt,” Emanuel said, according to a Chicago Tribune report.
Meanwhile, Gentry has also proposed legislation for the coming legislative session that would require that parents of high school students be notified by text message of student absences and coming tests.
An Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman said Monday that the district already has a system in place that allows schools to notify families of attendance, tests and emergency situations by automated phone calls and email.
Requiring that those communications be sent via text message could incur costs for certain families, APS spokesman Johanna King said.
The 30-day session starts Jan. 16 at the state Capitol in Santa Fe.