Inside Santa Fe Community College’s surgical simulation labs, mannequins purchased with federal grants are hooked up to IV pumps donated by local hospitals. High school students earning dual credits are working there this semester toward nursing certifications that will, in turn, help fight a workforce shortage in the region.

On a tour of the college Tuesday afternoon, Scott Stump, an assistant U.S. education secretary, praised the college for its efforts to combine federal and local funding to support programs that connect high school students with the demands of local industry.

“The nut we’ve still got to crack all around the country is how to get secondary students working their way though K-12 to understand there are multiple pathways beyond a four-year degree,” Stump said. “A lot of two-year and certificate programs pay a lot more than a history degree.”

Stump, who was the state director of career and technical education in Colorado prior to his appointment to assist U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was at the community college as part of a national back-to-school tour by top officials at the Department of Education, including DeVos.

Stump visited Santa Fe Community College’s adult education program as well as its biofuels lab, which specializes in converting algae into sustainable energy.

The Trump administration is committed to reshaping education throughout the nation in response to business and industry needs, Stump said, rather than those of four-year institutions. The Department of Education is working to increase opportunities for career exploration and to include career education in the curriculum at public schools, not only for high-schoolers but also for students as young as fifth graders, he said.

“Our department is working to align high schools and community colleges to make sure that there is a sequence that students can easily walk through,” Stump said.

“Education truly is local,” he added. “That’s what my secretary laid out from the beginning — we’ve got to let those closest to the learners make the decisions because as they work with employers, they’re going to know a lot better how that program needs to run than we do sitting in the beltway of Washington, D.C.”

Stump and community college officials noted federal funding makes up around 7 percent of the budget at SFCC and other community colleges. Most of the school’s funding comes from the state or local sources, such as the $17 million bond Santa Fe voters approved in February 2018 that will be used to construct a new automotive technology facility, repair the college’s fitness center and make technological upgrades across the campus.

Going forward, Stump said, the Department of Education is aiming to attract more high school graduates to community colleges through simple math.

“We’ve got $1.5 trillion in federal financial aid debt on loans that students have taken, and it’s a burden on many families,” he said. “So we’ve got to figure out a different way to show students multiple pathways, letting them pursue their passion but with at least information on what the end product will look like in terms of tuition and future employment.”

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