Arrowhead Park Early College High School’s (ECHS) recognition as a national Blue Ribbon School is an incredible distinction for our community and the partnership and leadership that brought the school to life. Congratulations to the outstanding teachers, school administration, and district leadership of Las Cruces Public Schools who have made this school work so well for the families of our community.
Doña Ana Community College and New Mexico State University should also be applauded for the role they’ve played in providing dual-credit courses – college-level courses propelling students toward college degrees alongside their high school diplomas.
From the beginning, Arrowhead Park demonstrated the very best practices of K-12 and college collaboration, especially for first-generation college attenders, low-income children and children of color. When students graduate at very nearly 100 percent, everyone wins.
The timing of the Blue Ribbon announcement on the heels of September’s meetings of the Legislative Finance and Legislation Education Study Committees is almost poetic. Both committee meetings included debate about the effectiveness of dual-credit courses and the funding challenges faced by the higher education partners. Currently, New Mexico’s higher education system is losing between $5 million and $7 million annually. This is simply unsustainable. We must close this funding gap, because of the incredible returns we see on this investment.
The Bridge of Southern New Mexico stands as a vocal and visible advocate for expanding dual-credit courses to bring academic and economic success to even more students.
For every $1 in increased state investment to cover the shortfall, New Mexico’s families would receive a whopping $13 return for a four-year degree and $6 for career certifications or two-year degrees through reduced student loan debt and one to two years of additional income. The recent Legislative Finance Committee report indicates that dual-credit students can graduate college two years earlier than non-dual-credit students, saving families $5,000-$15,000 annually.
Even using conservative calculations, dual-credit returns between $1.12-$1.28 for every $1 to the state when students earn four-year degrees and around 71 cents for two-year degrees. Dual credit students need fewer remedial courses, which saves money, while graduates who enter the workforce faster add one to two years to their lifetime income, generating additional personal income and gross receipts taxes for the state.
However, dual credit is also the answer to New Mexico’s growing workforce crisis. Middle-skilled workers comprise 60 percent of the state’s workforce needs, but we are falling short of these skilled workers.
Robert Kaplan, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, recently discussed the critical need to close this pernicious skills gap. Those with only a high school diploma face a declining workforce participation rate and are more likely to be unemployed. Skilled workers, especially those with middle skills, are more employable and earn more.
Increasing college access and completion will equip far more high school students with the post-secondary credentials they need to not just engage in, but build, our state economy.
Change is already on the way. New Mexico’s historically low graduation rate has hit an all-time high for the state – in direct correlation to the rise in students taking dual credit courses. Even higher rates will be attained by prioritizing Career and Technical Education pathways that earn career credentials and lead to two-year degrees in high school.
What does Arrowhead Park ECHS teach us? That, more college-level coursework, not less, is demonstrably improving outcomes for all students, which means they have successfully closed outcome gaps between groups of students.
Let’s support increased investment in dual credit by growing the pot through workforce or additional state dollars, not by shifting existing public or higher educational dollars from budget to the other, essentially “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Thank you, Arrowhead Park ECHS, for showing us all that investment in dual credit is a win-win-win for families, students and the New Mexico economy.
Wanda Mattiace is the chair and Dr. Michael Morehead is the vice chair of the Board of Directors of The Bridge of Southern New Mexico, a business-led, education-focused collaborative. For more information, visit thebridgeofsnm.org.