What More Proof Do We Need?

As published in the Las Cruces Bulletin

There’s something really significant about high school students seeing themselves as college students. It confirms that they can do something they previously thought may be too hard. It teaches them about what it takes to succeed in a college environment, which is so different than high school. It makes high school graduation more accessible and the future feel that much closer and more achievable.

At The Bridge of Southern New Mexico, we learned that so many years ago from the first set of Trailblazers at Arrowhead Park Early College High School. Thanks to their early exposure to college through Dual Credit courses, these students knew they were blazing a new trail for the students of New Mexico, as they worked toward high school and college graduation at the same time. 

“It’s going to give me a head start and help me know what to expect in college, rather than just going as a graduate and not knowing what to expect. It will prepare me for work, because there are high expectations of you,” said then-freshman Norma Ibarra, who has since gone on to earn her four-year degree in Forensic Chemistry from Eastern New Mexico State University.

Their lessons have benefitted so many other students across the state, including University of New Mexico Engineering Graduate Monica Lechuga, a first-generation American and college graduate who said, “Taking college courses disciplines you and makes you ready for success. Dual credit helped me get there faster. It would have taken more time and money. Instead, I graduated with no loans.”

The latest report on New Mexico’s Dual Credit Program confirms the same messages:

  • New Mexico’s Dual Credit program is directly tied to higher high school graduation rates across the board, with some districts posting more than 20-point spreads in graduation rates for Dual Credit vs. non-Dual Credit students. In fact, 16 districts reported 100% graduation rates for their students. In our local districts, the difference in graduation rates was:
    • Gadsden: 96% vs. 82%
    • Hatch: 90% vs. 68%
    • Las Cruces: 97% vs. 86%
  • New Mexico’s Dual Credit program is primarily benefitting students of color. Of all Dual Credit students:
    • 49% are Hispanic
    • 11% are American Indian
    • 1% are Asian
    • 1% are African American
    • 1% are Non-Resident Alien
    • 2% are Two or More Races
    • 24% are White
  • The vast majority of students (76%) earned A-C grades in credit-bearing courses.

Underlying all of that success is a number that illustrates why it’s critical that we adequately fund the college and university partners who make the state’s Dual Credit program work: for the first time since SY 11-12, there were less dual credit students and less courses taken.

This program that’s unquestionably working to support student success should not be retracting…rather it should be expanding.

That’s exactly why The Bridge took on the task of convening leaders in public and higher education, along with the Department of Workforce Solutions, to figure out what needed to be done to shore up this program. Asking the people who were dealing with the academics and economics of the crisis brought the right voices to the table for forge a power solution for our students and our state.

The group proposed the New Mexico True Talent Acceleration Fund to help close the more than $8 million gap between waived tuition and the minimal reimbursements through the funding formula’s Dual Credit performance metric, while also supporting better data for the state and communications for families and students.

Thanks to Representative Nathan Small and Senator George Munoz, two bills are currently moving through the state legislature (HB 415 and SB 377) to provide the resources to not just sustain the program but set the groundwork for its expansion to support even more students. 

As stated by Dr. Michael Morehead, long-time Dean of the NMSU College of Education and current Board Chair of The Bridge, “Never in my nearly 50 years as an educator have I observed anything as successful as the Dual Credit program. Research on Dual Credit consistently reports that students from all backgrounds and skills are more likely to graduate from high school and to more likely complete their higher education course of study. And importantly, a strong dual credit program can save families and students tens of thousands of dollars, thus reducing student loan debt.”

We look forward to how this investment will benefit New Mexico’s students, families, and the state for years to come.