There are two things that never changed during the three years I was away from The Bridge of Southern New Mexico:
- My love for this community.
- My firm belief in the promise and potential of the young people of Doña Ana County, and what they can teach the rest of the state when we rally our resources to support them.
And while I was Washington D.C., reading and hearing from leading national policymakers and think tanks, I learned something else:
- The conversations between leaders in business, education, economic development and government that built The Bridge – about increasing graduation rates and a building a highly-skilled workforce –– were ahead of their time.
- Now that the rest of the country is catching up, there is a growing wealth of resources and support to help us succeed.
That’s why the leadership of the Bridge is so passionate about making sure we continue to connect the dots for students, their families, employers, industry leaders and policymakers to propel New Mexico into a very different future than the one was may see now. It’s also why we approach this work with such urgency.
The decline in the state’s oil industry-fueled economy reinforces the need to spur the cultivation and development of new, more diverse industries, while using this moment in time to direct tight resources to support increased alignment and proven best practices.
Key to our success moving forward is a skilled and ready workforce. Every study and economic development plan hinges on this single factor.
In the short term, we need to build bridges into the workforce for our Opportunity Youth, those who are 16-24 years old and not in school or working. Through Doña Ana Community College (DACC), we have a number of premier training programs to help them get there.
The Workforce Investment Opportunities Act board, which oversees significant federal workforce development assets, is currently developing its four-year plan to support a more diversified economy, investing in programs that help Opportunity Youth and unemployed, under-skilled workers over 25 gain highly-needed 21st Century skills.
Building on the lessons learned from the Early College High School model, which was launched here at Arrowhead Park and proliferated statewide, we now know and can prove that career-focused, aligned coursework between high school and college can propel first-generation, low-income, and students of color toward 100% graduation rates and readiness for college and work. Scaling up this success will help even more students through aligned, Career and Technical Education pathways – and that work is already underway between the Las Cruces’ and Gadsden’s school districts and DACC.
The dots are connecting like never before, and it’s imperative we continue to strengthen these connections.
The great thing about New Mexico is that it doesn’t take a lot of change to make a lot of change. If just over 3,100 additional students graduate each year, New Mexico will vault from the bottom of the country in graduation rates to meeting to the national rate of 81 percent. Their success brings with it collective increased earnings of at least $30 million every year, if all they do is graduate high school. That number goes up proportionately, if they earn career certifications and associate, bachelor and post-graduate degrees.
That’s why proper alignment of our resources, and prioritizing funding throughout the workforce development pipeline, is critical and well within our grasp.
We, at the Bridge, will continue to do exactly as our name states – build bridges and partnerships focused on boosting education, opportunity and the economy to fully realize the great potential and promise of our youth, our county and our state