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Initiative aims at 60,000 more grads by 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A who’s who of central New Mexico educators, employers and political leaders reiterated their support Monday for a goal of increasing the number of college and university graduates and certificate holders in the Albuquerque area by 60,000 by 2020.

The goal was announced as part of a public kickoff of Mission: Graduate, an effort spearheaded by United Way of Central New Mexico with the backing of the local education establishment. The event was hosted by the Raytheon Co. at its Albuquerque facility near Eubank and Gibson.

The ambitious goal already has the backing of such employers as PNM, Intel Molzen-Corbin, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, the city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Journal.

Steve Downie, senior director of Raytheon Albuquerque, called the goal “very important for a company like Raytheon,” which has a strong vested interest in scientific and technical education.

Other speakers included Mayor Richard Berry, who described the goal as “audacious,” while vowing, “We will meet our goal of 60,000 degrees by 2020.”

Monday’s event, the mayor said, was a “call to action for businesses – and I run a business.”

The city of Albuquerque will assist those who seek to further their education, the mayor promised. “If you have an education, that’s great,” he said. “If you want more, we’re here to help you.”

Community leaders must find a way to reach out to children to impress on them the importance of education, he continued, urging the 100 or so people in attendance – including most of Mission: Graduate’s 15-member Vision Council – to volunteer. “At the end of the day, we have to inspire these kids to aspire,” Berry said.

Kathie Winograd, president of Central New Mexico Community College and co-chair of the Vision Council, promised the audience that by 2020 CNM would increase the number of associate degrees and professional certifications it gives out by 20,000 each. She and other members of the Vision Council also vowed to encourage their employees to continue their education.

“New Mexico and everybody in the state will benefit,” Winograd said. “We all need to work together.”

Noting that only 38 percent of working-age adults in the area have a post-high school degree and an eighth of the population has never finished high school, the group announced several specific objectives to help it meet the overall goal:

• Eliminating achievement gaps that perpetuate unequal outcomes from early childhood through college.

• Improving high school graduation rates.

• Increasing college and university enrollment and graduation rates.

• Aligning the educational objectives with local and regional efforts to recruit and cultivate new businesses and entrepreneurs to ensure that all graduates have opportunities for gainful employment.

That last issue arose at a meeting in June of Mission: Graduate’s four main educational sponsors – CNM, Albuquerque Public Schools, Rio Rancho Public Schools and the University of New Mexico – when some officials wondered if job growth would be able to keep pace with the increased number of college graduates. If not, they speculated, educated workers might be forced to leave the state to find employment.

At the time, the issue was framed as a chicken-and-egg question by Bob Matteucci Jr., a member of CNM’s governing board.

“What comes first?” he asked. “Do we have an educated workforce and the businesses come, or do you have businesses that are looking for the workforce? 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.”

Mission: Graduate officials are urging employers large and small to get on board. Businesses are being encouraged to help employees get a college certificate or degree; provide career exploration opportunities for students; volunteer in a school or with a college success program; and help parent employees to support their school children.

Angelo Gonzales, Mission: Graduate’s executive director, said he is aware the goal is ambitious, but added, “Too many of our students are not graduating from high school (and) are not going to college.” As a result, the general educational level in central New Mexico is a barrier to competing with other communities in attracting employers and employees alike, he said.

Other business leaders agreed. Don Power, CEO of Jaynes Corp., the parent company of three commercial construction companies in three Southwestern states, described Mission: Graduate as an “exciting journey.” And Presbyterian Healthcare Services CEO Jim Hinton, who co-chairs the Vision Council, noted the importance of the effort to the “vitality and sustainability” of the area.

Mission: Graduate’s target area includes Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties.