Editorial: Reform-embracing UNM on track to student success

The University of New Mexico is reporting some hopeful trends toward producing a more college-educated local workforce. But a greater buy-in to major reforms to produce college-ready graduates by some of the state’s public schools – most notably Albuquerque Public Schools – is still needed.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, UNM awarded an all-time record number of degrees – 5,674 degrees, up from 5,489 the year before.

According to UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah, the university is on track for its four-year graduation rate last year to exceed 20 percent for the first time in years. And that is despite declining enrollment.

Quite an accomplishment. Its five- and six-year grad rates also show improvement.

Abdallah and President Bob Frank have attributed the brightening graduation picture to steps UNM has taken in the past several years to prevent students from dropping out or from taking longer than the traditional four years to earn a degree. Among them are reducing the number of credits for a degree, increasing student support services and encouraging faculty to be more engaged.

Also, the university has undertaken the kind of fundamental change APS has been reluctant to embrace, moving away from the status quo and successfully moving students who need remedial help more quickly into regular college classes.

And, UNM has a carrot on the degree stick: Students who are on track to graduate in four years get free tuition for the last semester.

In other words, UNM is becoming more nimble and proactive to help students get through school in four years. Good job.

But before a student can embark upon earning a degree at UNM or Central New Mexico Community College or other institutions of higher learning, he or she has to make it through high school with the knowledge and skills to do college-level work.

And the APS pipeline with a graduation rate of 61.7 percent in 2015 – compared with 82.7 percent in Rio Rancho – is a significant impediment to improving the higher education profile of the four-county metropolitan area.

Meanwhile, this month is Attendance Awareness Month and Mission: Graduate, an initiative of United Way of Central New Mexico and its partners throughout the region, focusing on the importance of helping students and their families recognize the importance of regular attendance and staying in school.

“Starting as early as kindergarten or even preschool, chronic absences predict lower third grade reading scores, and by middle school it’s a warning sign that students will fail key classes and drop out of high school,” said Angelo Gonzales, executive director of Mission: Graduate.

Misson: Graduate and its partners, whose ultimate goal is to substantially increase the number of people with college degrees and certificates in Central New Mexico by 2020, are sponsoring the free Attendance + Engagement = Graduation Conference today where educators and community, government and business leaders will meet to address truancy in particular.

Here, APS is part of the reform effort. Mission: Graduate will recognize APS’ Truancy Prevention and Intervention Initiative, whose goal is reducing truancy at all grades with identifying truancy early in a child’s school career and getting them help.

Bernalillo High School’s Attendance team will also be recognized for working with local tribes to increase Native American students’ attendance.

New Mexico needs an educated and skilled workforce and people who are prepared to make contributions to society. These efforts are commendable.

But the hard truth is this: unless APS can embrace substantial change and produce more graduates who are better prepared, no amount of other effort can move the needle enough.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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