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Mandatory College Application Bill Advances at NM Legislature

Enrollment in colleges across New Mexico fell 14 percent from 2010 to 2016. (
Enrollment in colleges across New Mexico fell 14 percent from 2010 to 2016. (
February 5, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. – A bill is advancing in the Legislature that would require high schools students to apply to at least one two or four-year college before they're allowed to graduate.

Exceptions would be made for students who can show they've committed to military service, a vocational program, or work upon graduation in an apprenticeship or internship.

Betty Patterson, president of the state's teachers union, says New Mexico's diverse population makes it a good testing ground for the requirement.

"Institutional racism is still alive in our schools, and we need to make sure that this doesn't happen to our students,” she states. “All students should have the right to be able to see what their future could hold, and what possibilities are there."

Enrollment in colleges across New Mexico fell 14 percent from 2010 to 2016 and bill supporters hope it would reverse the decline.

Opponents of the bill have raised concerns that encouraging students in one direction or another might encroach on their personal freedom to make their own choices.

New Mexico also is struggling with one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the U.S., and Patterson says too many students are still intimidated by the college application process.

"They need help looking at alternatives - scholarships, jobs, everything – and if we have a counselor, someone who is available to help them make those decisions, that would be great," she states.

If passed, the bill would make New Mexico the first state to require that students have post-high school plans.

Jennifer Zinth, director of high school and STEM research at the Education Commission of the States, says if the bill goes forward it would require parents and school guidance counselors to work side-by-side with students and approve their plans.

"Especially for students whose parents did not go to college, who are not familiar with the college application process, those students would probably need a fair amount of guidance in helping develop the application, making sure if there's an essay or personal statement involved that that writing is high quality and really targeted to what colleges are looking for," she explains.

Bill supporters maintain requiring students to at least fill out applications could make them more likely to attend college.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM