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College grad rate rise in central NM misses goal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The good news is that more students in central New Mexico are graduating with college degrees or certificates each year; the not-so-good news is that the rate of increase is not enough for the Mission: Graduate program to reach its goal of having 60,000 additional graduates by the year 2020.

That’s according to “All Systems Go,” the third annual data report from the organization, which was released Thursday.

While the data “lags a bit,” said Mission: Graduate executive director Angelo Gonzales, there were 12,716 “new” graduates from 2010 through 2014 and, based on 2014 figures, “we are about one-fifth of the way toward our goal.”

The 60,000 goal is for degrees over and above the number that would have been earned by 2020 without the initiative in the four-county metro area consisting of Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties. The goal was to make the area more competitive with other cities in a knowledge-based economy.

More specifically, in the 2010-11 school year, 13,491 degrees and certificates were awarded. By the end of the 2013-14 school year, the most recent statistics available, that number had increased to 15,510 graduates.

Mission: Graduate, an initiative of United Way of Central New Mexico, is a “cradle-to-career partnership” of educators, local employers, educational support providers, government leaders and citizens all committed to the goal of having 60,000 graduates by 2020 in central New Mexico.

They accomplish this by working with families and students at all grade levels, including pre-school, to provide in-school, after-school and summer school programs, as well as mentoring programs with Mission: Graduate partners in the community.

The other part of Mission: Graduate’s goal is to keep those graduating college in central New Mexico from relocating, and to provide enough good paying jobs that are appropriate to their degrees and certificates, he said.

“Our institutions of higher education in central New Mexico are increasing graduation outcomes – the trajectory is headed in the right direction – but the challenge is to accelerate that progress” and address the underlying factors hindering it, Gonzales said.

The data report indicates that three trends are slowing progress.

First, although many school districts have made gains over the past few years, the number of students graduating from some local high schools remains well below the national average of 82.3 percent. The most recent graduation rate from APS was 61.7 percent, compared with Rio Rancho Public Schools’ graduation rate of 82 percent.

Second, fewer people are enrolling in central New Mexico’s post-secondary institutions, thereby decreasing the pool of people available to earn certificates and degrees.

Finally, while the overall degree attainment rate for central New Mexico has increased slightly from 38 percent in 2010 to 38.8 percent in 2014, central New Mexico is still struggling to retain and attract people with post-secondary education to this region.

Among the reasons, Gonzales said, are “the availability of jobs, mismatches between people’s education and available jobs, and the competitive pull from other states with more jobs,” which often pay more money.

To address these challenges, Mission: Graduate’s more than 300 partners are organized into Collaborative Action Networks that have formed strategies to move the needle on a number of core outcomes.

The strategies focus on such areas as early childhood and family supports, early literacy, attendance, summer learning, staying in school, career exploration, adult transition to college, graduation and workforce alignment.

Additionally, the All Systems Go report highlights 10 Mission: Graduate partners as “Bright Spots” for programs in which children or adults were measurably better off after participating.

Mission: Graduate operates under a Vision Council that includes a representative from the Albuquerque Journal. Co-chairs are Presbyterian Healthcare Services President and CEO Jim Hinton, and Central New Mexico Community College President Kathie Winograd.

Ten Mission: Graduate partners are highlighted in the All Systems Go report as “Bright Spots” for programs in which children or adults are measurably better off after participating. These partners include:

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