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Officials: UNM already hitting goals outlined in governor's initiative

Gov. Susana Martinez visited UNM earlier this month to highlight her goals to get more college students graduating on time, some of which UNM has already undertaken.

Forty-two percent (792) of students who graduated in 2013 took five years to walk the stage. Meanwhile, only 29.5 percent (569) of the 2013 graduating class received their degree four years after starting at UNM.

Faculty Senate President Stefan Posse acknowledged that graduation rates are a key metric of student success, and that the senate is always looking for ways to increase the quality of education at UNM.

“We have a responsibility to the people of New Mexico and to provide a high value education,” Posse said. “We’re engaged in a lot of processes … to become an even more successful flagship institution in the 21st century.”

UNM Regent Bradley Hosmer said the gears are already turning at UNM with some of Martinez’s goals, and have been for some time.

“We agree with the governor and began to address, four years ago, the problems she correctly cited at the summit. Her recommendations read like our playbook, which also includes some innovations that make UNM degree programs more student friendly than any comparable university we know of,” Hosmer said.

Probably the most important of those initiatives is the streamlining of all degrees to have 120 credit hour requirements, which would allow students to graduate in four years while taking no more than 15 hours each semester.

According to UNM data, 43 of the 98 programs – almost 44 percent – offered at UNM are already down to 120 credit hours, the minimum mark for a degree. All that work has been done in the last year.

UNM’s engineering students are already benefiting from the University working to meet the 120-hour mark; according to http://informatics.unm.edu/degrees/degrees.html, all nine undergraduate engineering degrees require 125 credit hours or less, with three programs currently at the sought-after 120-hour mark.

Dean Joseph Cecchi said before work to lower the credit hours needed, the average amount needed was 131.

“I think it will help greatly,” Cecchi said. “The result of the faculty of all the programs getting together at my request and finding ways of reducing that [number] was a way to help the students without impacting the quality of the program.”

In addition to the 120-hour initiative, the UNM Board of Regents also recently approved the Aim to Achieve enterprise, which “will allow students who complete college in four years to pay no tuition for their final semester,” the release stated.

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Cecchi said that it’s important for the University to acknowledge the various factors that go into whether or not students graduate on time or not, including those who work on the side.

“We’re a very diverse university, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “We’ve got to show some flexibility and understanding. I think it is important to give students a clear option and path to doing it in four years, and I think we’ve done that now.”

Posse said that success for college students is a balancing act, one that requires efforts on both the faculty and staff.

“We are very determined to help. This is a far-reaching journey, and it’s not an easy journey. There’s no expectation that this should be something that is easy to accomplish,” he said. “All these discussions are on the table, and we’re actively engaging. We’re in touch with the Regents, the administration and the undergraduate student body, and we’re on it.”

David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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