New Mexico Proposes a Hail Mary for High Schoolers

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — With the worst graduation rate in the United States, New Mexico is considering legislation that would require high school students to apply to college before they would be allowed to graduate.

New Mexico’s graduation rate was 71 percent for the 2016-2017 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Nationwide, the graduation rate was 84 percent that year.

Enrollment in New Mexico colleges and universities is also dismal, with the state’s higher education enrollment numbers dropping consistently over the past several years. And after reducing its lottery scholarships from 90 percent of tuition to 60 percent for in-state students for the coming school year, the forecast isn’t looking any better.

The novel solution proposed by state Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and state Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, is New Mexico House Bill 23. It would require high school juniors to apply to college or show proof of plans for post-graduation such as an apprenticeship or military service, before they are allowed to graduate.

Though some deride it as election-year grandstanding, the sponsors say it will boost college enrollment and build a better-educated workforce that in turn will bring more businesses to New Mexico. The state’s 6 percent unemployment rate was the second-highest in the nation in December 2017.

Ivey-Soto, a former teacher, says the bill will encourage prospective first-generation college students.

“There’s a reason we call graduation commencement, because it’s the beginning of their future,” Ivey-Soto told KOB 4 TV in Albuquerque. “Let’s take that seriously.”

The New Mexico plan resembles one that Mayor Rahm Emmanuel is implementing in Chicago, which will begin in 2020. But the Chicago plan has not been greeted with unqualified approval.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the city’s plan “sounds like a good plan on paper, but I also wonder what do kids know what they want to do at or accomplish at 17 years old?”

“I can’t imagine you do all the work you do to graduate that you get your diploma withheld from you,” Lewis told CNN.

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