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NMSU?s mentorship opportunities, lower cost help students earn top tier education

For Rose Perea, a Las Cruces native and daughter of a New Mexico State University employee, NMSU was not only like a second home, it was an open door to a life where she had the opportunity to reach her full potential.

Two women walk down international mall.
New Mexico State University is one of the most inexpensive top tier universities on the U.S. News & World Report?s Best Colleges 2016. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

?NMSU was a natural choice for me and felt like it had always been part of my educational journey,? said Perea, NMSU alumna and current doctoral student in physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University.

She credits internships at the Public Works of Las Cruces and the Configurable Space Microsystems Innovations and Applications Center in Albuquerque as significant opportunities obtained at NMSU.

?These were both valuable hands-on experiences that significantly improved my experiences and skill-set,? said Perea, who earned both bachelor?s and master?s degrees in physics from NMSU.

Additionally, Perea mentioned how important tutoring and mentoring services through the Student Support Services and the opportunities to work one-on-one with professors on various research projects were to her.

?The mentorship from my professors, the TRiO programs, and support from my family have helped me pursue and persist in my path toward the Ph.D. Having the opportunity to work on different research projects while at NMSU has given me a strong foundation in engineering, materials and physics,? she said. ?I don?t think I would be as successful as I?ve been thus far without this combination of support and academic preparation.?

For students like Perea, NMSU offers an opportunity to achieve a big step toward a better life through a rare combination: a high-quality education at a lower price.

According to the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges 2016 list, NMSU was selected as a top tier university for the third time in four years. NMSU ranks in the same category as expensive private universities such as Harvard and Yale and peer institutions such as Texas Tech University and the University of New Mexico.

As a land-grant university, NMSU serves an economically diverse student population that includes many first-generation, low-income students. The university provides an outlet for many students to achieve upward mobility. For example, the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation and the New Mexico AMP Bridge to the Doctorate program strive to increase the enrollment, quality of education and graduation rate of historically underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

New Mexico AMP is a statewide program that was established in 1993. Since the program?s inception, the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities in STEM areas has more than doubled, from 253 (24 percent of the total STEM degrees awarded) in 1992-1993 to 779 (44 percent of the total STEM degrees awarded) in 2012-2013, with a total of 9,388 STEM degrees awarded statewide over the life of the program. The estimated economic value to New Mexico from these degrees is approximately $43 million per year.

?By providing a high quality education at low cost, NMSU serves as a gateway to the middle class for students whose family circumstances might otherwise have prevented them from attending college. As an NMSU faculty, I?m proud to say that our students are as well prepared as any to compete, yet often are burdened with less debt than students who attend a more expensive school,? said Chris Erickson, NMSU economics and international business professor.

Each of the top five schools on the Best Colleges list costs their students more than six times as much as the cost to students attending NMSU. Four years of in-state tuition and fees at NMSU will cost $26,916, while Princeton, the No. 1 school on the list this year, will cost $173,800. While many private institutions top the rankings, public universities like NMSU educate 73 percent of all college students.

?Students, along with faculty and staff, hold themselves to a high standard at NMSU, and we are glad that it shows through the ranking,? said Dustin Chavez, Associated Students of NMSU president. ?This is another great thing that students will brag about. NMSU has repeatedly shown that we produce a high-caliber product and now the ranking displays the hard work that the NMSU community puts into our university. NMSU not only offers a great education but it is a family that wants to see you succeed.?

The U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings are based on seven categories. Among them are the categories of selective admission practices, alumni donations and funds spent on each student, which hinder public universities that rely on state expenditures.

?Many students will admit that they came from out of the state or stayed in state to attend NMSU due to the great education offered at an amazing price. The price of our education for the quality is hard to compete with,? Chavez said.

While NMSU offers an economical option for a college education, a number of students are assisted by loans and Erickson teaches the topic of loans in his courses.

?I cover student loans in my Money & Banking class. I emphasize that it?s best to graduate with no debt, but that isn?t possible for most of us, including me. Graduating with debt is better than not graduating. I emphasize the financial benefit of a four-year degree then add that it also has nonfinancial benefits as well,? Erickson said.