Blogging @ CNM

Central New Mexico Community College


CNM Is Answering the Call of Our Leaders and Community

In my blog post last week, I talked about the degree-audit program being a “win-win-win” for our students, community and economy. It’s also a win for CNM.

But before I talk more about the degree-audit program and the state funding formula, I want to unpack some terminology that was used in last week’s comments.  Some of the responses referred to “gaming” the system. When I read that term, it seemed the author was suggesting that CNM is doing something wrong. “Gaming” implies that we are providing degrees or certificates that have not been earned, giving credits to students they did not deserve, or creating awards for programs that do not exist. None of that is true.

For the past 15 years, the New Mexico Legislature has been trying to overhaul the funding formula from inputs to outputs. Policy makers have been clear that they want to change the behavior of higher education institutions from trying to simply get students in the seats to making sure they stay in school to graduate. They finally accomplished their goal through the current performance-based funding formula, which provides incentives for us to focus more on graduating students.

The changes in the formula reflect the realities of our country. In the Albuquerque Journal op-ed I wrote about the degree audit subject, I referenced studies that clearly show the importance of higher education degrees to individuals, communities and states. I also referred to the national focus on increasing the number of graduates. There is no need to repeat that information. But there is a need to keep repeating this message: in New Mexico, having more students graduate with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees is crucial.

CNM has been paying attention to the messages from our state-wide policy makers and our national leaders. We started efforts to increase graduation numbers many years ago. And CNM faculty and staff have done some nationally recognized work focused on helping more CNM students succeed.

We have definitely been moving in the right direction, and we will continue to explore ways to do even better. The degree-audit pilot is only one example. Our graduation numbers have been steadily increasing since 2008. And this has contributed to our work to improve our budget situation. CNM has slowly, but steadily, improved our financial situation since the height of our state budget cuts in 2009.

Because of the hard work of faculty and staff, CNM has been able to fend off the more drastic effects of the Great Recession that many other public organizations were unable to dodge, such as layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts. We fared better than most because of the Budget Reduction Plan we instituted in 2009, which included reorganizations to streamline operations, reductions in administrative positions, and a Voluntary Retirement Incentive program that saved us several million dollars.

CNM’s budget improvements have helped us invest in our most important resource – our employees. Although most state agencies, universities, colleges and school systems in New Mexico did not receive salary increases, CNM provided a 5 percent salary increase last year. This year, CNM exceeded the 1 percent salary increased provided by the state, providing employees with a 2 percent salary increase. Also, CNM announced in April that funding was being set aside to continue evaluating how staff and faculty salaries measure up against the same positions at peer institutions or in comparable markets. The staff adjustments have already occurred and CNM will be providing our full-time faculty an opportunity to receive an adjustment as well.

As I’ve said many times before, I strongly believe that CNM is one of the best community colleges in the country. To continue our ongoing journey toward being the best, we need to continue to be responsive to our policy makers and our community. And most of all, we need to focus on student success.

I’d love to hear what you think. Please post your thoughts.



Degree Audits a Win-Win-Win for Students, Community and Economy

Hello CNM!

Hope you’re having a great summer term.

Did you happen to see the story in the Albuquerque Journal that was headlined “Surprise! You Graduated!” on July 26? It reports on a developing degree-audit effort at CNM that identifies students who have completed all requirements for a degree or certificate and then automatically presents them with the graduation awards they have rightfully earned.

This is something I wish we would have started years ago. It’s a terrific effort – a win-win-win for students, our community and our economy. We all know our region and our state desperately need more college graduates to attract new economic activity, which improves the job prospects for our students and community members while improving the quality of life for all.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of implications made in the story that have caused confusion, which I want to clear up.

First, officially earning an associate degree does not affect a student’s financial aid status. Students are eligible to receive financial aid for 150 percent of the credit hours required to complete their program. For example, if a particular associate degree program requires 70 credit hours to complete, a student is eligible to receive financial aid for 105 credit hours. The Journal ran a correction on Tuesday.

Secondly, there was an unsubstantiated claim in the story that a student was awarded an associate degree without completing a required math course. CNM absolutely refutes the notion that any degree or certificate has been knowingly awarded without a student completing all requirements. The degree that is referenced in the story requires a math or biology class.

The Journal story fairly reported that a significant number of students were not notified that they had earned degrees or certificates early enough to participate in the spring graduation ceremony. This was an unfortunate lapse on our part and we have put plans in motion to make sure this doesn’t happen again. This is a pilot program and we will continue to improve it.

The awesome news is that this initiative helped us to award 4,182 associate degrees and certificates to students in the spring term, which set an all-time record at CNM for graduation awards in a term.

Students who have an associate degree or certificate on their résumé, whether they’re moving on to pursue a bachelor’s degree or not, are in a stronger position to compete for a job and land a higher salary. Our No. 1 job at CNM is to help our students succeed. Making it easier for them to receive the degrees and certificates they have rightfully earned is a no-brainer for me.

Up until now, students have had to voluntarily fill out graduation application paperwork in order to officially receive the associate degrees or certificates they have completed. For quite a while at CNM, we have known that many students do not bother with the process or they are unaware of it altogether. Many of them move on to a university or have already secured a job at the end of their time at CNM. But what if unforeseen life circumstances stop them from achieving that bachelor’s degree or they get laid off from that job? They should have the associate degree or certificate diploma in hand to fall back on – they earned it.

We don’t force students to apply to pass a course. When they earn a passing grade, it automatically goes on their transcript. Should graduation be any different?

Many colleges and universities around the country are in the midst of similar efforts. Here’s a link to a story in the Community College Times about it.

One of the most pressing issues of our time, both in New Mexico and across the country, is the need for more college graduates. Our economic future, and the future of younger generations, will hinge on the success of higher education. As the leading community college in New Mexico, we must continue to lead and do our best to advance this cause.

Before we discuss, I just want to express my great appreciation for all of the tremendous work that has been done by faculty and staff across CNM for the past several years to help more of our students graduate. Since 2008, the number of students graduating from CNM has increased 208 percent, from 2,188 in 2008-09 to 6,732 in 2012-13. Cheers to that!

So, what do you think of this new effort at CNM? Do you see any drawbacks? Or should it be full-steam ahead?