Gov. Susana Martinez was on the University of New Mexico campus Wednesday kicking off her Summit on Higher Education. As the event’s keynote speaker, Martinez discussed a variety of issues facing higher education; focusing on the need for a more unified system that graduates more students on time with degrees that better prepare them for New Mexico’s work force.

“Higher education plays the most critical role in supporting and developing a work force,” she said.

Martinez said in New Mexico, only about 14 percent of students graduate in four years, with about 47 percent finishing in six years. She said according to one university, it costs nearly twice as much for those two extra years, a huge expense for everyone.

“We are falling far short of one of the key expectations that New Mexicans have of us,” she said. “To see students graduate and graduate on time.”

Martinez called on universities across the state to increase counseling efforts to help students stay on track. She also wants institutions to reduce the number of credit hours needed to earn a degree to 120 hours. She highlighted UNM School of Engineering Dean Joseph Cecchi, saying he has brought almost every engineering degree to this standard with success.

“If we make this commitment together, we will not only graduate students faster, we will save students and parents’ money, maximize our higher education funds, and generate a more substantial pipeline of workers," said Gov. Martinez.

Martinez also applauded incentive programs at several state universities designed to help motivate students to finish in four years. At UNM, if a student is set to graduate in four years, their final semester tuition is free.

“Keeping our students on a two year or a four year graduation path is worth investing in,” said Martinez. “It is truly that important.” 

The governor also stressed the importance of having a cohesive higher education system within the state. She said a large part of that is making it easier for students to transfer credits from one institution to another. In some cases, Martinez said universities should adopt a common curriculum for specific degrees at every institution in the state. She believes these initiatives and others could also help with strengthen graduation rates. 

“If we make this commitment together, we will not only graduate students faster, we will save students and parents’ money,” she said, “maximize our higher education funds, and generate a more substantial pipeline of workers.”

Along with helping students graduate sooner, Martinez talked about the benefits of having graduates that meet the specific needs of the regional economy and statewide work force. She said giving people the necessary skills to get a good job in the state will help keep them here once they finish college.

“It makes no sense to pay for all of the training and send the trained worker elsewhere,” she said. “We have an investment in that student. We want those students to stay in New Mexico.”

Martinez said her administration will be launching a statewide, online portal called “Students Work.” The program would connect students with employers offering internship programs in a variety of fields. All New Mexico college students will be able to access the portal for free. 

“Hopefully through this effort we can keep more of our graduates here because they’ve learned to work here,” said Martinez.

During her speech, the governor also stressed the importance of building better bridges between public and higher education. She said statistics show that many students are entering college without the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. She said more than $20 million a year is spent on remedial courses to teach students what they should have learned in high school. And while some might say this isn’t an issue for universities and colleges, Martinez reminded that it is up to the higher education system to make sure future teachers are ready to prepare students for success in college.