Background Report: Strengthening Higher Education and Tomorrow’s Workforce Town Hall

Executive Summary

This background report summarizes information, challenges and opportunities for New Mexico’s higher education system and its overall approach to workforce development. Our state’s students are motivated, high-achieving people, and they maintain these characteristics despite having to overcome significant hurdles. Some are the first generation in their families to attend college; others work multiple jobs while attending school. They are often returning to school to prepare for second careers. Our students come from urban, and tribal communities and often households functioning at or below the poverty line.

At the same, New Mexico’s employers are facing challenges of their own. They want to strengthen the state’s economy and create new jobs. They need future employees to help them achieve those goals. They find it is in their – and their communities’ – best interests to see students succeed. This report offers a foundation in policy and program matters that can help advance those goals. The many topics are grouped into six chapters:

  • CH 1: High school preparedness and student success in community college
  • CH 2: Excelling at four-year degrees and beyond
  • CH 3: Higher education systems
  • CH 4: Workforce integration and alignment
  • CH 5: New Mexico’s healthcare workforce
  • CH 6: New Mexico’s energy workforce

Participants at the April 2018 statewide town hall will use this report as a starting point for discussion of potential reforms. By the town hall’s conclusion, participants will develop a platform of consensus recommendations for policymakers, education leaders, industry and possibly others.

Chapter 1 of this report presents the importance of academic and career preparation in high school (for all students) and then the challenges and opportunities facing community college students in particular. Topics range from leveraging the benefits of dual credit, to overcoming the challenges of remedial education, to helping students finish credential and associate’s degrees on time.

Chapter 2 focuses more on the needs of students in bachelor’s and graduate programs, but many of the issues presented also affect community college students. It addresses recruitment, retention and completion data for New Mexico colleges and universities, along with the myriad of challenges associated with navigating financial aid. It also offers concrete examples of best practices for highly impactful classroom experiences.

However, New Mexico cannot achieve student success without effective structures, governance systems and financial stability for its overall higher education system, and these are the subjects of Chapter 3. Creating a cohesive system that best utilizes the multiple boards overseeing or advising our 29 public colleges and universities is no small task, nor are options for setting clear performance measures to keep colleges and universities on track.

Employers in New Mexico care about all the issues above, because they rely on the today’s students to become tomorrow’s workforce. Chapter 4 looks at the concrete matters of workforce integration including skills gaps, on-the-job training partnerships and the need to keep more of our people in-state (rather than taking jobs elsewhere).

Chapter 5 invites readers to consider the unique needs of the healthcare fields, with challenges prompted by the growing numbers of insured New Mexicans, many of whom live with chronic health problems. A solid foundation exists in New Mexico to expand our healthcare workforce pipeline, but shortages remain in many areas of the state – especially rural and tribal communities.

New Mexico’s energy workforce is the topic for Chapter 6, selected in part because of the state’s economic reliance on the industry. Roughly a third of general fund revenues comes from the energy sector. Changes in the industry point to job reductions for some fields and expansions for others. Expansion of STEM education remains a key strategy for meeting future needs and helping employees adapt to new opportunities.

Additional information on all these topics is offered in the comprehensive report that follows.

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