As published in the Las Cruces Sun-News December 3, 2018
There’s an awful lot of talk about education, and specifically education investment, going into 2019.
A new governor, new administration, court-mandated increase in public education funding, and a healthy budget surplus are several of the forces at the forefront of what will come in the next chapter of New Mexico’s education story.
Where should we target interventions, aka investments? Yes, there’s a lot of momentum and research that supports the value of early learning to set students on a strong path for the rest of their lives. Those are indeed important investments, reaping rewards for students for years to come, but it will take 15-20 years to fully realize their economic impact.
When we think about where we can see clear returns on those investments in the shorter term, it’s about targeting the places that provide the literal “bridge” from education to meaningful, well-paying employment or entrepreneurship. Academic completion in high school and college translates to economic strengthening for students, families, communities, and the state.
Dual Credit courses are that “bridge.” These college-level courses taken by high school students in traditional and early college high schools have emerged as the single greatest tool for propelling New Mexico’s students toward high school completion, college persistence and completion, and earlier workforce entry.
However, we’ve undermined the success of the program by not properly funding half of the partners that make the program work – the colleges and universities.
During the most recent fiscal years, our state’s higher education institutions have waived an average of $8.4 million a year in tuition, while receiving $1.1 million through the higher education funding formula, for an average loss of $7.3 million.
So, at present, one of the best stories in New Mexico education is financial unsustainable. We simply have to address this crisis and target investments and good policy to ensure the program can grow in its ability to prepare our young people for academic and economic success.
It’s time to put New Mexico’s Dual Credit Program on the forefront of education investment.
Success in the workforce today requires some level of college completion — career certifications, two-year degrees, four-year degrees, and higher. Dual Credit courses support vital college-access and persistence for all students, including students of color, first-generation college attenders, and students from low-income families, getting them across those finish lines faster and for less money. When properly aligned toward a certification or degree, these courses can save New Mexico families tens of thousands of dollars in college tuition — as much as $15,000 annually. Armed with college credentials, their earning power increases on average $5,000 and $22,000 a year, based on how far they go in their college career.
Dual Credit courses also hold the key to closing the vast middle-skills and technical skills gaps needed in our state-wide workforce, transforming the state’s economy through academically and economically-empowered employees and entrepreneurs. Our young people are the key to increasing diversification of the economy by becoming the talent we need to grow and attract higher-skilled, higher-paying industries.
Increasing our investments in this powerful program will provide a return on investment for families and the state sooner — in as little as two to five years. Using even fiscally conservative estimates, for $1 invested in our higher education institutions:
- $13 will be returned to families when students earn four-year degrees through reduced student loan debt, need for remediation, and increase income from earlier workforce entry; $6 for two-year degrees
- $1.12-$1.28 returned to the state through taxes generated through increased graduate earnings and remediation savings for four-year degrees; 56 cents to 71 cents returned on two-year degrees
New Mexico’s Dual Credit Program has delivered on its promise to students and families. It’s time we properly fund it, so we can continue to keep this promise.