Final Report: Strengthening Higher Education and Tomorrow’s Workforce Town Hall


The following recommendations were developed by participants in small groups at the town hall. Then the entire town hall reviewed each other’s work, offered refinements, and ultimately voted on their level of support for each recommendation. All of the following items achieved a high consensus threshold, receiving support from 85 percent of the town hall.

Student Success Before and During College

New Mexico college students must start strong and finish stronger – ready for careers of the future. To get there, many must overcome financial hurdles, meet family responsibilities, and hold down one or more jobs. Success is not easy, therefore town hall participants called for concrete reforms to help students make smart choices every step of the way. Young people must transition successfully from K-12 to higher education, and then students of all ages must receive top-notch college coursework and support that is right for their unique career goals. A combination of strategies – from authentic advising in high school, to courageous remediation reform, to real-world internships to launch successful careers – can all create a pathway to college success.

“What we need to be doing better, earlier, is helping young people think about the careers they find interesting and then doing more to help them understand the educational pathways that lead to those goals.”
—Angelo Gonzalez, Ph.D., Founding Executive Director, Mission: Graduate

Recommendation 1: Improve the transition from high school to college

GOAL: Provide adequate and sustainable resources to K-12 schools and community colleges to create rigorous, relevant, seamless advising, education and career pathways.


a. Expand options for high school graduation requirements that include a rigorous, yet flexible, demonstration of skills based on each student’s chosen pathway.

b. Enhance community college admissions and transitions.

c. Provide tuition-free Community College.

d. Commission a diverse team of stakeholders to develop marketing, funding and implementation strategies for advising, education and career pathways for students and their families, with emphasis on first-generation and low-income students.

e. Establish a robust data collection and evaluation system, inclusive of existing systems, to track and share effectiveness measures and outcomes of the advising, education and career pathways.

“Postsecondary education has got to develop a more holistic approach to student-supportive services … we need to find those people in postsecondary education who can be a mentor of all things.”
—Celina Bussey, Cabinet Secretary, N.M. Department of Workforce Solutions

Recommendation 2: Get students off to a good start in college

GOAL: Support students’ academic needs upon college enrollment, ensuring success for all entering students.


a. At enrollment, task higher education institutions to identify student risk factors and needs using multiple methods of assessment and using available student data. Share information with students to make them agents in their own learning and empower and engage them to be active participants in their education.

b. Train and support high school and college advisors to ensure students are aware of and utilize support programs, integrated with faculty, such as Learning Communities for newly enrolled students.

c. Address enrollment needs of non-traditional students such as veterans, caregivers, distance learners, and transfer students.

d. Replace remedial courses, where appropriate, with co-requisite model or other alternative strategies for remediation.

e. Incentivize and support faculty/instructor development in instructional/pedagogical strategies (IBEST, e.g.), particularly those who teach introductory courses, to support all students.

Recommendation 3: Tangibly Support Students through to Completion

GOAL: Provide tangible support – including financial aid, behavioral health and information about future opportunities – for students to complete their college programs/degrees and meet their goals.


a. Fund institutional research on program effectiveness and success of all students, including diverse and unique populations; use data from various sources, such as ENLACE or student veteran groups.[1]

b. Deploy multiple strategies to build higher education institutions’ capacity to improve students’ completion time, such as incorporating dual-credit and credit transfer, degree pathways, better advisement, student support services including behavioral health, meta majors, course rotation and sequencing to accommodate full and part-time students.

c. Expand practical, diverse learning opportunities in existing courses, via methods such as experiential learning, course-based undergraduate research experiences, and project-based learning to enhance the engagement of all students.

d. Expand internal and external academic-related student employment opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students; examples include paid internships and assistantships.[2]

e. Create and finance more need-based grants and scholarships (e.g., College Affordability Fund or tribal-targeted aid) for both credit and non-credit programs, as well as state loan forgiveness and “loan for service” programs.[3]

Building the Workforce of Tomorrow

New Mexico employers need employees with specific types of skills, and some types of jobs are in greater demand than others. Repeatedly, town hall participants said that too few New Mexicans make their educational decisions with workforce data in mind. This challenge is true for students, unemployed workers, or people who want to change careers. The town hall called for wholescale improvements in workforce alignment across all career pathways. Additionally, the town hall proposed targeted reforms for the high-need and high-opportunity fields of energy, healthcare and K-12 education.

Recommendation 4: Improve career-based education for students of all ages

GOAL: Increase the number and quality of career-based learning opportunities. Advance this goal collaboratively with P-20+ students and families, public and private sector employers, and other organizations that support these opportunities.[4]


a. Create new opportunities for students by improving pathways to high-demand industries and occupations, using best practices.

b. Invite and incentivize public and private employers to improve student engagement through internships, mentorships, leadership, apprenticeships, and teacher externships.

c. Build the capacity of career counseling and advisement, to include employability (soft) skills and creation of strong partnerships among schools, community organizations, employers and families. [5]

d. Define career readiness, and create a career-ready graduation pathway that is recognized by employers.

e. Strengthen and support an interactive information resource, such as the Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) career portal, that connects career counselors, admission personnel, postsecondary advisors and coaches, and families with information and supports peer-to-peer engagement.

Recommendation 5: Make New Mexico a worldwide leader in energy education and research

GOAL: Integrate all energy sectors into a collaborative system to make New Mexico the global leader for energy education and research innovation.


a. Promote collaboration between energy industry sectors and leverage existing research assets.

b. Continue implementation of the New Mexico Energy Roadmap strategies.

c. Establish consortium of schools that offer energy programs with regional expertise coupled with statewide collaboration separate from the current funding formula. Credits from these programs should be transferable to four-year degrees.

d. Integrate information technology expertise into the energy education strategy (cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, e.g.).

e. Solicit industry partnerships, funding, and contributions, including from companies outside the state, to develop specialized programs developing those skills the industries need.

“Everyone is sort of waking up to the idea that we need to look at areas in which we can exploit the field of energy ... It’s very good to come and hear different perspectives and see how they can be integrated to help us move forward.”
—Bobbie Williams, Founder and President, Strategic Action Forum

Recommendation 6: Meet the rapidly changing workforce needs of the energy sector

GOAL: Align education and training programs to meet energy sector workforce needs.


a. Partner with employers and entrepreneurs to determine workforce needs and necessary modifications to the curriculum.

b. Create incentives for public and private investments and partnerships with higher education institutions to develop workforce training and research leading to high-paying jobs. For example, incentivize company participation in educational advisory boards.

c. Establish diverse ways for energy employers to engage with students. This includes internships; mentoring; apprenticeships; scholarships; short, high intensity training, followed by an internship and ongoing mentoring; and cross-disciplinary entrepreneurship training.

d. Develop institutional flexibility for agile curriculum changes to meet the rapidly changing energy sector needs. Change policies to allow for direct funding of non-credit programs. Allow non-credit hours to be transferred into credit programs.

e. Develop responsive training programs specific to employment opportunities. The programs must be validated by employers and the educational institution, confirming they deliver the necessary skill sets.[6]

Recommendation 7: Grow New Mexico’s healthcare workforce

GOAL: Ensure that New Mexico has a sufficient number of healthcare, behavioral health, dental health and elder care providers who represent diverse backgrounds and have sufficient technological capacities and broadband networks to serve all communities. (Diversity includes race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, geography, interdisciplinary training, cultures and linguistics reflective of New Mexico’s populations.)


a. Implement and fund statewide and regional healthcare systems partnerships. Expand collaboration between higher education institutions and Department of Workforce Solutions, regional workforce boards, and college campuses. Continue and expand workforce presence on campuses to serve as a link between colleges, workforce connection offices, and regional employers.

b. Enhance and fund a unified statewide health career pathway system that leverages existing resources, systems and structures that are designed to include mentors that reflect our communities.

c. Increase support and access to the New Mexico Workforce Connection system for healthcare workforce development, including maintenance and support of information about existing programs and opportunities related to healthcare education, careers, and potential funding sources for students.

d. Increase funding for loan repayment and loan-for-service programs and amend regulation or statues for rural health care tax law to include more healthcare disciplines.

e. Support and fund innovative and creative models developing in New Mexico that address provider shortages, healthcare fragmentation, and siloed healthcare systems.[7]

“One of the things I want to see solved is having more minorities in the higher professions. Now that I’m at the (UNM) College of Pharmacy … I want to see a more diverse population into the classes.”
— Fabiola Perez, student, UNM College of Pharmacy

Recommendation 8: Advance a health workforce that is diverse and culturally competent

GOAL: Increase access to, equity in, and support for healthcare education and workforce programs to reflect and support New Mexico’s diverse population.


a. Require course work and licensing/certification training that includes learning outcomes and competencies addressing systemic inequities such as poverty, racism, and disparities in education and access to all types of health services. Acknowledge the vital importance of integrating the history, languages and cultures of New Mexico in this process.

b. Create, enhance and develop a culturally and linguistically competent workforce adopting and enacting the provisions from vetoed SB 269 (2017) [8] and enforcing SB 600 (2007)[9] with regard to workforce training including English as a Second Language (ESL) for medical situations.

c. Expand funding to Adult Education system to expand the use of Integrated Education and Training models into entry-level healthcare certificates as an onramp to healthcare career pathways for academically under prepared adults.[10]

d. Train financial aid staff, advisors, and outreach/recruitment staff to access alternative financial resources for students including adults who lack a high school diploma or equivalency. Examples include Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or demonstrating the “ability to benefit” to receive financial aid.[11]

e. Expand training in all healthcare careers with emphasis on community health worker training, and create partnerships with state and federal entities, rural health VA and Indian Healthcare training.[12]

f. Strategically grow our own, expand, and retain a permanent healthcare workforce to meet the needs of the state by increasing support for healthcare education to create a diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects New Mexico’s population.

Recommendation 9: Create a highly qualified and diverse pool of K-12 teachers

GOAL: Expand and support the current and future teacher pipeline to reflect and honor the diversity of our state population. [13]


a. Recruit and retain high quality diverse teachers by creating incentives, launching a marketing campaign that values the profession, and implementing the recommendations of the New Mexico Educator Vacancy Report.

b. Create a new teacher accountability system based on incentives and professional trust.

c. Inventory, strengthen and expand the existing K-12 programs, such as Future Teachers of America, that help to identify and recruit students, inclusive of non-traditional diverse students, into the teaching profession.

d. To meet on-site needs of dual credit courses and early college high schools, recruit, retain and support teachers to obtain K-12 licensure plus Higher Learning Commission-recognized post-secondary teaching credentials.

e. Recognize teaching as a true profession by paying regionally competitive salaries and fully funding school programs and supplies. For example: create a pool of funds teachers can access for classroom supplies.

Education and Workforce Governance

New Mexico is home to 29 public higher education institutions (HEIs) located throughout the state, serving approximately 133,830 students. We also run 21 Workforce Connection Centers, overseen by four regional boards. People at the town hall expressed worry about duplication of effort, effective coordination and smart use of limited funding. They wanted to boost efficiency, improve accountability, see all the entities operating well, and they were not opposed to developing new systems where needed.

Recommendation 10: Improve collaboration between New Mexico's colleges and universities

GOAL: Incentivize collaboration among higher education institutions to improve access and equity, streamline pathways to completion, and minimize financial burdens.


a. Encourage community engagement partnerships, especially K-12 and other community organizations through inter-agency state grants.

b. Encourage, develop and fund collaborative delivery of non-duplicative programs and courses throughout the state.[14]

c. Create a fund within HED to reward creative, innovative, non-redundant inter-institutional programs.

d. Harmonize one-source, community-driven relevant data collection and ensure public access.

e. Explore barriers to coordination and opportunities to incentivize collaboration in the funding formula.

“We need to work on collaboration, we need to work on making sure that we get the most out of every dollar that we spend in higher ed in New Mexico. That’s going to require an effort amongst all of the institutions, to make sure that we collaborate in a way that is to the greatest advantage of New Mexicans, the students and everyone that is concerned – the people paying the bill.”
—Del Archuleta, CEO, Molzen Corbin

Recommendation 11: Strengthen governance and accountability for colleges and universities

GOAL: Improve accountability and efficiency among higher education institutions to better benefit students and communities by achieving the most effective higher education governance systems (i.e., regents, governing boards, presidents, deans).


a. Review and update statutes and rules to identify and ensure clear governance responsibilities and accountability, reflect Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation standards and best practices, eliminate obsolete practices and increase efficiency within HEIs.

b. Institutionalize the practice of requiring colleges to report graduates and employers survey findings to the state Higher Education Department (HED) and require HED to make results public and use as a basis for decision-making.[15]

c. Transparently define goals and accountability standards to meet statewide attainment goals, metrics, and equity-based benchmarks for HEIs to include fiscal responsibility, retention rates, completion rates and career success.

d. Mandate best practices in proper selection, training, development, and accountability in proper roles and responsibilities for regents and governing boards.

e. Fund and provide statutory authority for HED to achieve HEI accountability through creating greater incentives and implementing penalties.

Recommendation 12: Advance a Workforce Training Governance System

GOAL: Support an effective structure of collaborative governance for integrated workforce training. Deploy public and private sectors to mobilize an agile, adaptable, and innovative P-20+ system to achieve a shared vision of success.


a. Form a diverse coalition to lead a planning process and implement the following strategies.[16]

b. Conduct asset mapping, landscape analysis and national best practice research to align higher education with workforce needs.

c. Build a comprehensive statewide strategic business plan that engages diverse stakeholders, considers existing plans, sets targets, defines
impact and provides a framework for policymakers.[17]  

d. Identify options for government agencies to work more effectively together, such as task force, work group, new government agency, council, etc., with clear goals and accountability measures.

e. Create incentives to spark and sustain collaboration between industry sectors and education stakeholders to meet workforce needs.

[1] ENLACE (ENgaging LAtino Communities for Education) New Mexico is a five-region statewide network with programs to create an educational pathway for New Mexico’s youth.

[2] The authoring group noted that assistantships could potentially be awarded as an incentive for faculty mentors.

[3] Strategy moved from Recommendation 3 since it supports enrollment.

[4] Members of the town hall advanced the term “P20+”, which essentially means pre-school through graduate school. The P-20 concept extends the traditional K-12 education pathway to include at least pre-kindergarten, post-high school education and workforce participation. However, the focus of town hall’s implementation team will be higher education and workforce development.

[5] For strategies c and d, town hall participants pointed to the graduate profile characteristics offered by the Albuquerque-based collective impact organization, Mission: Graduate.

[6] Digital badges may provide one tool for validation.

[7] Examples of potential models include the University of New Mexico’s preferred criteria for equity and inclusion, community health worker certification, Project ECHO, or dental therapists. Systems that may need to overcome fragmentation include, but are not limited to, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Services, private practitioners, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), Skill Up Network Pathway Acceleration for Technology and Healthcare (SUN PATH).

[8] Vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez, the 2017 Senate Bill 269 would have required state agencies and entities receiving state funding to develop and implement policies to decrease institutional racism, defined as “actions that result in differential access to the goods, services and opportunities of society due to the existence of institutional programs, policies and practices that intentionally or unintentionally place certain racial and ethnic groups at a disadvantage in relation to other groups.”

[9] The 2007 Senate Bill 600 directed the creation of a task force, the members of which would be appointed by the secretary of the Higher Education Department, charged with designing cultural competence education requirements in certain health education programs offered by higher education institutions.

[10] Models include Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) and medical ESL. Washington state’s system provides a useful example.

[11] Federal regulations require students to demonstrate an “ability to benefit” (ATB) from post-secondary education before they can receive federal student aid. ATB typically refers to earning a high school diploma or equivalent and being enrolled in a degree-seeking program.

[12] The Office of Rural Health of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is tasked with increasing access to care for veterans living in rural communities who rely on VA for health care.

[13] While the focus of the town hall was higher education and workforce, that issue of K-12 teachers was included in the scope because teacher preparation takes place at New Mexico’s colleges and universities.

[14] Examples include centers of excellence or NMSU’s 2+2 online bachelor’s degrees that couples two years of online community college with two years of online university coursework.

[15] The Kirkpatrick Training Evaluation Model offers a useful example. It is comprised of four levels: reaction, learning, behavior and results.

[16] The coalition should include a wide array of interests including rural, tribal, funders, workforce, K-12, business, higher education, workforce solutions, adult education and others.

[17] The existing “Business Plan for Early Childhood in New Mexico” may provide a useful example. The draft plan was published in spring 2018 by the New Mexico Early Childhood Funders Group (



Won’t you please support New Mexico First?

Some of Our Sponsors