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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Family Impact Seminar focuses on high school dropout problem

ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico has the third worst high school dropout rate in the nation. This translates into a large number of unprepared workers in the state's workforce. The economic impact of this unprepared workforce and solution-oriented research information on the subject was recently presented to state legislators during the fifth annual Family Impact Seminar.

The Departments of Family and Consumer Sciences and Extension Home Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University facilitated the seminar "The New Mexico Dropout Rate: Contributing Factors and Implications for Policy."

Presenters at the seminar were NMSU Graduate School Associate Dean Luis Vazquez, who spoke on "Dropping out of Education in the Land of Enchantment: the Complexity of New Mexico"; Ronald Werner-Wilson, chair of Family Studies, School of Human Ecology at University of Kentucky, who spoke on "Families Matter: the Impact of Families on Academic Achievement"; and Florence Neymotin, assistant professor, Kansas State University, Department of Economics, who spoke on "The Economic Impact of the Dropout: Now and Then."

New Mexico families, regardless of their ethnicity and culture, want the best for their children. Luis Vazquez and Ronald Werner-Wilson agreed that for youth to complete their high school education, they must understand that it is valued. The value of education must be exhibited by the family, school system and community. This is accomplished by making it clear to everyone that students are expected to graduate and that it is not acceptable to drop out.

Werner-Wilson said students need people in their lives who support education and promote academic achievement.

"The dropout rate in New Mexico is not very different than it has been historically. However, the world has changed considerably in recent years, with technology being a key component in all industries and the the global economy having a strong impact on our workforce," said Charolette Collins, facilitor of the Family Impact Seminar, in her opening comments to seminar participants. "A significant factor in the New Mexico dropout picture is the widening achievement gap. Those who could once drop out and 'get by' can no longer do so."

Attending the seminar at NMSU-Albuquerque Center were Sens. Mark Boitano, R- Bernalillo; Tim Eichenberg, D- Bernalillo; Dede Feldman, D-Bernalillo; and Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Bernalillo; and Reps. Jimmie Hall, R-Bernalillo; Rick Miera, D-Bernalillo; and Danice Picraeux, D-Bernalillo. The program was also broadcast via Internet Centra to county Extension offices across the state to give legislators in remote locations easier access.

All of the legislators found the seminar informative, and each said the information would be useful during policymaking in the future.

"The timeliness of this information was great," said Miera, chair of the New Mexico House of Representatives' education committee. "The dropout rate is a big issue that is consuming everyone at this time. The fact is that everyone has a reason for the high rate and how to fix it. I found some of the ideas presented here encouraging."

Neymotin provided U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics regarding the earning power of people who completed high school and those who did not. "The median weekly earnings in 2008 for a high school dropout was $426. The difference between that and a high school graduate was $165, which equals $8,580 each year or $386,100 during their career lifetime," he said. "When looking at the devastating economic impact of the high school dropout rate, you realize the huge contribution this situation makes to poverty in New Mexico."

Vazquez presented evidence that this situation can be remedied by discussing the positive results of "90/90/90 schools" where, although 90 percent or more of the students were members of ethnic minority groups and 90 percent were eligible for the federal free-lunch program, 90 percent met the state standards in reading.

"We can't write off students just because they live in a poverty environment or have language issues. Students succeed when schools provide a focus on academic achievement, clear curriculum choices, frequent assessment of student progress and multiple opportunities for improvement, and when there is an emphasis on nonfiction writing and schools perform collaborative scoring of student works," Vazquez said.

He added that all school personnel - from the principals and administrators in leadership roles, to teachers and support professionals such as school psychologists, social workers and nurses, to support staff such as janitors, bus drivers and cafeteria workers - must demonstrate the value of education by showing interest in how the students are doing academically and encourage the students by communicating to them that they can succeed.

Werner-Wilson said students cannot be expected to fail just because they are in a single-parent family. "Research shows that although children from single-parent families struggle academically, those who have support from extended family members do well. Students need people in their lives who support education and promote academic achievement."

The New Mexico Family Impact Seminar is a service project for the state Legislature. New Mexico is one of 27 states participating in the program from the Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which provides policymakers and professionals with nonpartisan, research-based information and a family impact perspective on many of the complex issues being debated in state legislatures across the country.