Secretary of Higher Education speaks in Portales

Robin Fornoff

New Mexico’s secretary of higher education cautioned leaders from across eastern New Mexico to get on board with his latest initiative or face falling behind.

The call to action by Jose Garcia, appointed to higher education’s top spot by Gov. Susana Martinez almost a year ago, was part of a statewide tour of all the state’s colleges and universities. He was the guest of Eastern New Mexico University President Steven Gamble for an informal gathering at The Vines restaurant in Portales.

A major part of Garcia’s message outlining his plan to help New Mexico’s colleges and universities create a “globally competitive workforce for the future.”

Garcia said higher education across the U.S. has already slipped and without major change in how students are prepared, it will only get worse.

He cautioned that China is expected to surpass the U.S. in total gross national product sometime within the next 30 years. Other developed countries are close behind. Garcia said every time in history that a once powerful country slips behind or sees itself falling behind another, it creates global instability.

“What we’re interested in here…deep down inside what we know is we need to have a workforce that will be globally competitive from here on out,” Garcia said.

“The U.S. right now is slipping down the greasy pole of higher education,” Garcia said. He noted the U.S. system of higher education, once ranked number one if the world is now considered about 17th by most international experts.

One of the changes Garcia said he immediately implemented was to change the state’s funding formula for higher education. He said his $750 million annual budget used to parcel money out to a formula unchanged for more than 40 years, rewarding schools for square footage of buildings and numbers of students.

“The relationship between square footage and preparing the work force is absolutely zero,” Garcia said.

The new formula, he said, instead rewards colleges and universities for the numbers of degrees granted to students each year. It also includes bonuses to schools that initiate programs concentrating on areas known by the acronym STEM — Science, technology, engineering, math and health. Garcia said numerous studies show students who concentrate on one or all of those areas are better prepared for jobs of the future.