Reducing student debt and preserving taxpayer dollars are topics dear to the hearts of the Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC).  Both came up this morning when UNM presented to the committee on timely degree completion and planning for turnaround for low-performing schools.

Timely Degrees
Associate Provost for Curriculum Dr. Greg Heileman talked to committee members about UNM efforts, through the faculty, to reduce minimum degree requirements to 120 hours from 128 hours. The latter is the minimum currently required at all NM four-year institutions. Heileman pointed out that universities in many other states, including Arizona, Colorado and Texas, have adopted the 120-hour threshold, which is also endorsed by higher education accrediting agencies. Data shows, said Heileman, that quality is not sacrificed by lower course loads while “credit creep” costs money. He added that UNM’s degree mapping initiatives create direct routes to degree completion though students changing majors midstream can be challenging.

Another particular challenge that Heileman brought to the committee is imbedded in education degrees that have 57 hours mandated by New Mexico Administrative Code and state statute. These hours are often in addition to and overlap core requirements. Together, the two can catapult minimum education degree requirements to between 125 and 137 hours. 

Committee members want higher ed institutions to work together and with PED on trimming those 57 hours. Interim Education Dean Vi Flores told the committee this is no easy task as changes in teacher licensure have to be taken into consideration. But everyone seemed to agree it can be done and the committee seemed amenable to working with PED to change code and statute.

School Turnaround
Dr. Arlie Woodrum from UNM’s Department of Teacher Education then briefed the committee at length on a proposal being submitted to PED to train leadership that will turnaround low-performing schools in the state. The proposal is underscored by a partnership featuring UNM, NMSU, both of their business schools, Las Cruces Public Schools, NM Leadership Institute, the Kellogg Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The intent, said Woodrum, is “to create across the state an enormous pool of turnaround talent” whose focus will be increasing academic achievement at low-performing schools.

Though largely supportive of the proposal’s intent, several members had concerns about recruiting, benchmarks and time obligations. They also don’t want to see the state on the hook for funding the program once the grant expires. Other members reminded their colleagues that money to accomplish school turnaround currently is going to the University of Virginia. They would like to utilize instate expertise and keep those dollars in New Mexico.

Rep. Jimmie Hall (R-Albuquerque) admits having reservations and does not want to see this program deteriorate into partisanship pitting schools districts against PED.  The quote of the morning comes from Hall:  “I’ve got little feet, but I’ll jump all over it.”

Welcoming the New Dean
Dr. Hector Ochoa, the new dean at UNM College of Education, got a warm welcome from the LESC. He spoke of his intent to work with all sectors on public school achievement and shared his belief that colleges of education have a special responsibility to the citizens of the state.  The LESC also applauded Dr.Vi Flores for her past, current and future work on behalf of the state.