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If there’s been one consistent message coming from The Bridge of Southern New Mexico over our 12-year history, it’s been the importance of accelerating students not just toward high-school graduation, but also college completion.
Why? Because academic outcomes lead to economic impact – empowerment – freedom. And, these academic outcomes are directly tied to building a skilled and ready workforce capable of driving economic development.
Dual Credit courses are a proven vehicle for this acceleration.
Dual Credit, which allows high-school students to take college courses and get credit in both places, demonstrated its power early on when 100 percent of the first students at Arrowhead Park Early College High School graduated high school and earned associate degrees and/or career-focused credentials in just four years.
Access to Dual Credit courses within Career and Technical Education pathways are also linked to students earning valuable career credentials that they can use whether they go on to continue their education or go straight into the workplace after high school. Students in CTE pathways similarly graduate at, or very near, 100 percent.
In fact, New Mexico’s upward trajectory on high-school graduation rates in the past few years directly coincides with the advancement of Dual Credit courses in the state. The majority of these classes are taken by students of color, including 48 percent by Hispanic students. Interestingly, the gap in graduation rates for Hispanic students and all students has closed over the same time period.
As of the 2019-20 school year, there were 21,757 students taking 54,265 classes, roughly 1 in 5 New Mexico students.
Now, look at what we’ve learned in the past year and half thanks to the pandemic.
Those with a high-school diploma or less were the ones most likely to be unemployed by the Covid shutdowns. Those without college credentials were least likely to be able to transition to remote work, and unemployment rates during the pandemic were highest among those who did not hold some level of college credentials, while jobs for those with college credentials actually increased during the pandemic.
New Mexico has always had the power to change its economic trajectory by realizing the importance of becoming a PK-14/16 state, meaning that we have all the assets we need to propel a whole generation of students toward some level of college completion while in high school: career-specific certificates and associate degrees. Setting this expectation before students early in their academic journey would enable them to make academic choices that increase their incomes over the course of their lives.
So, what has prevented our state from looking at what clearly works and doing it more and better? To date, it’s been the unwillingness to make an essentially a small investment in the context of the state budget – around $12 million – to fund the higher education institutions who offer these courses to students tuition-free.
While our community colleges and universities have been increasingly making these opportunities available to students, the actual cost to deliver the same class and same services to high-school students as a college student has never been fully funded. Complicating this is the fact that high-school students do not have access to financial aid for college courses. In fact, some have said tuition-paying students are essentially subsidizing non-tuition-paying Dual Credit students.
With the state currently awash in money, it seems like now is the time to fully invest in the future of our students by intentionally, strategically, funding Dual Credit statewide. We will be calling upon our elected officials to take this opportunity to make a generational investment in a PK-14/16 education system, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s the key to our states economic prosperity for generations.
Tracey Bryan is the president/CEO of The Bridge of Southern New Mexico. She can be reached at TraceyBryan@thebridgeofsnm.org.