LAS CRUCES – In a bright spot for New Mexico’s struggling system of higher education, the number of degrees and certificates awarded has risen by roughly a fifth in five school years.
Postsecondary institutions in the state awarded 23,244 two- and four-year degrees and one-year certificates in the 2014—2015 school year, up nearly 21 percent from 19,132 in 2010—2011, according to the state Department of Higher Education.
The statistics include degrees and certificates awarded by the public research and comprehensive universities, branch and independent community colleges, and tribal colleges that report to the department.
“That means we have more graduates and more individuals with certificates that are ready for the workforce,” said Gov. Susana Martinez, during a news conference at New Mexico State University to announce the numbers. “That’s huge. That’s 4,000 more students per year that are entering our workforce.”
The growth pushes the state toward one goal of the Martinez administration’s strategic plan for higher education, which is currently in the works: increasing the proportion of degrees and certificates held by the working age population to 66 percent by 2030, roughly double the current rate.
New Mexico ranked 41st in the nation in educational attainment in 2014, with less than 35 percent of 25- to 64-year-olds with an associate’s degree or higher, according to the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation working to raise the proportion of Americans with postsecondary credentials.
“We have to continue pursuing reforms that are aimed at graduating more students on time and with the skills they need to enter the workforce,” Martinez said, noting efforts to conform degrees to 120 credits and make courses more transferable between institutions.
Colleges and universities in New Mexico are staring down a budget crunch that could last for the foreseeable future, brought on by falling state revenues and declining enrollment. Among other things, the University of New Mexico and NMSU are slashing costs and working to restructure their administrations.
“We have to persist on trying to improve the whole higher education system,” said NMSU system Chancellor Garrey Carruthers, during the news conference.
Martinez is hosting her second annual Summit on Higher Education in Albuquerque on Friday to discuss statewide strategic planning topics and higher education attainment.