U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich introduced legislation Wednesday aimed at keeping college students in school through graduation for the next 10 years.
The bill, called the College Completion Fund Act, would require states to develop strategic plans for increasing completion and graduation rates in order to access $62 billion in funding through the U.S. Department of Education.
“The fact is that federal education policies and funding support for colleges and universities have not caught up with the realities facing today’s student bodies,” Heinrich said during a virtual presentation last week hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy. “We’ve focused for so long on how we can get students into college. I’d argue we need to focus much more on how to help students get through college.”
Heinrich lauded the proposal as a way for schools to better track retention rates.
Under the proposal, funding would be distributed to states based on census tract poverty data in an attempt to reach under-resourced schools, and states would need to gear proposals toward low-income and first-generation college students.
If the bill passes Congress and is signed into law by President Joe Biden, states would be able to use the funds for multiple purposes, such as career coaching, data collection on student progress and child care for students who are parents.
Heinrich’s proposal was met with enthusiasm Wednesday by local college and university officials.
“We welcome additional funds to help keep students in New Mexico colleges and universities,” state Higher Education Department spokeswoman Stephanie Montoya wrote in an email.
Santa Fe Community College President Becky Rowley said that if passed, funding from the federal legislation could go to wraparound services for students. The University of New Mexico has backed the bill and is one of a handful of institutions calling for Congress to incorporate the legislation into the upcoming infrastructure bill Heinrich hopes will pass later this year.
In a news release from Heinrich’s office, UNM President Garnett Stokes said college completion and degree attainment “are very important to promoting upward mobility for New Mexico’s underserved populations, many of whom are first-generation college seekers.”
According to data from the 2019 school year, 77 percent of first-time students enrolled at UNM’s main campus in 2018 returned the following year.
Fifty-four percent of students who enrolled at UNM in 2014 graduated within 150 percent of the average completion time — within six years for a four-year degree — in their respective programs.