Recent Reports Confirm “Why” We’re Right

Originally published in the Las Cruces Bulletin on Friday, January 17, 2020

I am constantly reading reports – national, state, and local best practices, case studies, and recommendations on interventions and approaches relative to workforce development. Many of these reports inform our work. Others confirm it.

We know that effective workforce development in Doña Ana County is built on two things: increasing academic outcomes (high school graduation, college certificates and degrees aligned to employment in our top industries) will generate economic impact for individuals, families, our county, and the state. 

Two recent reports confirm the power of the change we seek, answering “why” we simply must be successful.

Where College Graduates Gather, Prosperity Rises, an article and report by economist Dr. William Yu at the University of California – Los Angeles, discussed the impact of educational attainment on local economies. 

“Economists consider human capital calculations strong indicators of economic prosperity,” reported Dr. Wu. “Regions where the population’s skills and knowledge are high – place high in human capital – typically have the highest average incomes, GDP growth and business innovation. Lower human capital areas report more need for public assistance, lower consumer spending and lower productivity. Today’s popular places for highly educated people, especially places that attract younger college graduates, are likely to become the nation’s most prosperous economies in the future.”

Dr. Wu found New Mexico ranked in the top seven states showing population gains in well-educated 25- to 34-year-olds. The key for Doña Ana County is to continue not just graduating more high school, college and university students, but employing and retaining them in the key industries vital to our economic growth. 

This is the foundational premise of the ground-breaking workforce development plan from The Bridge of Southern New Mexico and our mission-aligned Workforce Talent Collaborative:

  • Education is key to building talent. 
  • Talent is the key to economic development. 
  • Economic development is the key to job growth. 
  • Job growth fuels regional prosperity and a vibrant, thriving community for all.

Part of this overarching work includes an intentional focus on supporting educational outcomes for single parents. In our county, 7,000 families are single parent families. More than half (56%) of our single mothers live in poverty, which means their children live in poverty (69% of children under 6 years of age).

“Why” is this group so important? 

The Center on Equity in Higher Education’s report, Investing in Single Mothers’ Higher Education in New Mexico: Costs and Benefits to Individuals, Families, and Society, tells us why.

Single mothers (26% of New Mexico college students) who graduate with an A.A. or a B.A: 

  • Are 35% and 59% less likely to live in poverty than high school graduates. 
  • Earn $366,614 to $607,084 more over their lifetime than high school graduates.
  • Save New Mexico $26,842 and $43,711 in lifetime public assistance. 
  • Contribute $105,138 and $202,685 more in lifetime taxes than high school graduates.

Recommendations for supporting their success include:

  • Making quality childcare accessible and affordable for student parents, increasing funding for childcare for college students, removing barriers to students’ eligibility for state childcare assistance, and incentivizing greater collaboration between the early and higher education systems. 
  • Investing in supportive services at the college level—affordable, campus-based childcare services, holistic case management, and programs that target support and information to students with children.
  • Removing obstacles to single mothers’ educational progress in college policies, such as allowing makeups for absences due to child illness and building campus environments that embrace and acknowledge student families. 
  • Informing students that childcare is an allowable college expense that can be considered in calculating financial aid and assist them in applying for the dependent care allowance. 
  • Leverage federal programs, such as TANF, SNAP Education & Training, Head Start, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, to support parents with low incomes to pursue higher education. 
  • Collecting and reporting data on students’ parental status and educational outcomes to inform the design and implementation of interventions.

I continue to be blown away by the passion, commitment and wisdom of the leaders of this community who instinctively knew long before these reports “why” what we were doing was the right thing to do and are in the trenches working on priorities even now.