Senator wants to help more NM students complete their degrees

During this graduation season, I am proud to pay tribute to all New Mexico students and their families, who have worked so hard to graduate. The financial rewards of finishing college are well documented. On average, students who complete a bachelor’s degree earn a million dollars more over their lifetime than those who only have a high school diploma. These awards benefit not only the students themselves, but also their children, families and communities as a whole.

Unfortunately, far too many students who enroll in college do not reach this important milestone. While 86% of students graduated from high school in 2019, a proportion that has steadily increased over the past two decades, only a quarter of students entering public two-year colleges graduate. within three years.

In New Mexico, we have improved the percentage of our high school graduates going to college. Yet only about 40 percent of freshmen in the state who enrolled in two- or four-year colleges graduated. Among Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans, as well as those from low-income families, graduation rates are even lower.

We have to do so much better than that. That’s why I’m working hard to establish a federal college retention and completion scholarship program, the first of its kind, to help more New Mexico students overcome all the barriers between orientation day and graduation day.

In recent years, the focus has rightly been on bringing a college education within reach of more students. We’re closer than ever to helping students afford a college education more easily with tuition assistance at the state level through the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship and at the federal level with increases important tools of the Pell Grant, one of the most important tools that helps many lower and middle income students pay school expenses.

Despite all of these welcome advances in college access and affordability, policymakers still need to recognize that for many students – especially first-generation students and those from low-income families – entering college is n is just the beginning.

If we want more students to graduate and experience all of the economic benefits that come with that education, our colleges and universities must be able to offer students more personalized and comprehensive support. And they must ensure that all students have access to affordable transportation and housing and academic mentoring to help them navigate college demands and stay on track.

My legislation to establish a new fund for college retention and completion would provide states with new funding to increase the graduation and completion rates of all students enrolled in their public colleges and universities. I helped secure an initial $5 million in the fiscal year 2022 omnibus appropriations agreement that Congress passed in March to launch this program.

Colleges across the country will be able to put these funds to work immediately for a variety of evidence-based programs that support student persistence, completion, and success. This includes programs like the Student Experience Project, which works with partner institutions like the University of New Mexico to create a more inclusive and equitable classroom environment in entry-level courses and improve support services provided to students. underrepresented freshmen and sophomores. backgrounds. Another good example is the New Mexico State University campus food bank called Aggie Cupboard, which has helped address growing food insecurity within its student community.

Colleges will also be able to implement bi-generational solutions that help students with children. We haven’t adapted enough to the reality that more than one in five students is also a parent. If the parents manage to find the time to go to school, they must adapt their lesson schedule to their job and to the school and daycare hours of their child. All of this limits parents’ access to a full and rigorous lesson schedule. The new retention and completion grants will allow colleges to provide better support for students with children, then families will overcome obstacles and achieve success together.

The new retention and completion grants will also allow schools to scale up the direct supports students need, such as mental health services, mentoring and career coaching. Schools will be able to help students apply for and access financial aid and benefits programs that will help them meet basic needs like food and shelter. Finally, this new funding will allow colleges to create incentives to keep students on track, provide accelerated learning options such as early high school programs, and improve transfer pathways between different schools. public and community colleges.

I remain focused on making even greater long-term investments in the new college persistence and completion grants so we can finally make sure students don’t just get into college. . We have to make sure that they also pass their college studies.

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