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Mission: Graduate goal exceeded

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Colleges and universities in Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia and Torrance counties handed out over 3,500 more degrees and certificates in 2013 than the year before, far exceeding the goal set by Mission: Graduate.

According to the annual data report by the group, 16,178 degrees and certificates were handed out in 2013 compared to 12,607 handed out in 2012, an increase of 28 percent.

“We exceeded our 2013 target goal of 13,237, so we’re very pleased,” said Angelo Gonzales, executive director of Mission: Graduate, a joint partnership of local government, education and business leaders aimed at increasing the number of college certificates and degrees awarded in New Mexico.

An initiative of United Way of Central New Mexico, participants include the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque Public Schools, Central New Mexico Community College, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Public Service Company of New Mexico, Intel, the city of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, the Albuquerque Journal and many others.

Together, they craft strategies for keeping young people in school and getting them to earn a college certificate or degree so they can enter a career or job of their choice.

The long-term goal of Mission: Graduate is to have 60,000 new graduates with college degrees or certificates by the year 2020. To accomplish that, more than 350 people are volunteering more than 500 hours every month.

“We took this up because we believe having a college degree or certificate is increasingly important to be able to find work in the labor force, and we know from the data that the more education you achieve, the greater the likelihood over the course of your life that you will have higher earnings and will be less likely to be unemployed,” Gonzales said.

“That’s the benefit to the individual, but the benefit to the community is in having a more highly educated workforce, which will attract more businesses to New Mexico and make sure our existing businesses have a talent pool they can draw from to meet their needs.”

While the emphasis may be on college, many of the strategies target middle and high school students as a way to expose them to a range of careers by connecting them to business leaders in the community through internships, job shadowing and mentoring.

Nearly 13 percent of working adults in the four-county central New Mexico area never finished high school. Mission: Graduate has strategies for helping them get their GED and pursuing a college-level certificate or degree.

Central New Mexico Community College showed the biggest increase in 2013 in handing out degrees and certificates over the previous year.

“It’s a good start, but we have a long way to go,” said CNM president and Mission: Graduate co-chairwoman Kathie Winograd. “I feel really good about the contribution CNM has been able to make.

“CNM has a long history of apprenticeships and internships and has been able to make great strides in that area, but that’s because we’ve been doing it for a long time.”

The University of New Mexico did not dramatically increase the number of degrees and certificates handed out in 2013 over 2012. Instead, it is focusing on strategies to keep students in school from their freshman through sophomore years, a time when many drop out.

“They are focusing on where they think they will get the biggest payoff later,” Winograd said.

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