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Town hall discusses workforce, education

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If everyone received a post-secondary degree or certificate in a specific field related to the job they wanted, would those jobs be available for them when they graduate?

It’s like asking, which came first, the chicken or the egg, said Cabinet Secretary Celina Bussey of the state Department of Workforce Solutions.

“If we don’t ensure that we have a high quality, high caliber and highly educated workforce, we will never be as successful as we want to be in recruiting those companies or getting our existing companies to expand,” she said.

Workforce Solutions Sec. Celina Bussey

Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron

Bussey was among a group of people participating in a roundtable discussion Tuesday as part of a two-day symposium, “Strengthening Higher Education and Tomorrow’s Workforce,” at the Marriott Pyramid North Hotel. The event was convened by New Mexico First, a nonprofit and nonpartisan public policy organization that offers unique town halls and forums and develops recommendations for policymakers and the public.

The deliberation is “intended to develop recommendations for strengthening higher education and workforce development in New Mexico,” said New Mexico First president and executive director Heather Balas, who also moderated the discussion.

“Our goals are to make sure as many students as possible have a productive experience in college, whether they’re getting a trade certificate or a community college degree or a university degree; and that they have the skills they need so our employers can then turn around and give them great jobs and keep them right here at home instead of us exporting all or our smart kids to neighboring states,” Balas said.

Cabinet Secretary Barbara Damron of the state Higher Education Department said students transfer in and out of colleges and universities, accumulating way more credit hours than needed for graduation because schools often won’t allow the transferred credits.

Students need roughly 60 hours to graduate from a two-year degree but many are graduating with nearly 100 hours; while 120 hours are required for a four-year degree and students often accumulate more than 150 hours.

To ease the burden on student time and finances and get them to enter the workforce sooner, her department has analyzed thousands of classes taught at 31 state institutions of higher education to get them aligned, recognized and accepted at each other’s institutions.

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