When it comes to increasing educational attainment in New Mexico, it appears that progress has been one step forward, two steps back."" That assertion comes courtesy of the Lumina Foundation's 2015 study on higher education, aptly named A Stronger Nation through Higher Education. According to the study, the percentage of adults in New Mexico with at least a two-year degree came in at 33.4 percent in 2008, only to surge to 35.1 percent in 2012. By 2013, however, the percentage of adults ages 25-64 with a two-year degree or better had sunk again -- this time to 34.9 percent.
More information brought forward by the Lumina Foundation sheds some light on higher education in the state. For example, according to the data, 26.31 percent of New Mexico adults held a high school diploma in 2013, 8.75 percent had an associate degree, 15.43 percent held a bachelor's, and 10.69 percent held a graduate or professional degree. Meanwhile, a full 24.69 percent had some college experience, but no degree. While inconclusive, these figures seem to suggest that the residents of New Mexico do place a high value on degree attainment.
Fortunately, there are plenty of institutions of higher education in the state, including four-year public schools, small community colleges, and trade and technical schools. As of 2014, the National Center for Education lists a full 52 schools as active in the state. While most of these institutions offer traditional, on-campus education, some offer an array of online and hybrid programs that can make earning a college degree easier for New Mexico residents.
Why Should I Earn a Degree in New Mexico?
Employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics portray New Mexico as a state with plenty of economic opportunity to go around. As of 2014, the state's job market employed 788,000 residents, who earned a mean annual wage of $42,230. Although many industries are represented in New Mexico, the following careers employed the highest number of college-educated workers in 2016:
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||123,090||$34,050|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||81,720||$21,470|
|Sales and Related Occupations||78,950||$32,430|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||52,400||$50,690|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||49,240||$41,780|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||47,240||$77,450|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||44,560||$35,880|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||39,530||$22,580|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||35,350||$63,330|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||32,980||$43,490|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||26,670||$23,740|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||25,900||$28,110|
In addition to a robust economy, New Mexico boasts an enchanting, rugged landscape dotted with urban areas that each have their own unique history. The largest cities in the state include Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, and Roswell. Major metropolitan areas include those surrounding Albuquerque, Farmington, and Las Cruces. The state's climate is generally considered semi-arid, but certain parts experience rather different weather conditions. In addition to rose-colored deserts, New Mexico also has its share of snow-capped mountain peaks and rugged high deserts.
Those who want to experience the culture and outdoor beauty New Mexico has to offer can enjoy any one of the state's 36 parks, three national parks, and 12 national monuments. Outdoor lovers will relish in everything from caves to biking trails to the state's many lakes and rivers.
According to the New Mexico Economic Development Department, key industries in the state include energy and natural resources, aerospace and defense, value-added agriculture, distribution, logistics and transportation, advanced manufacturing, digital and emerging media, and back office and technical support.
New Mexico also relies on tourism for much of its economic output. With eight state museums, festivals such as the Roswell UFO Festival and Whole Enchilada Festival, and attractions like the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, Great American Duck Race, and the annual Blues Festival, it's no wonder that so many people travel to the state for leisure.
In addition to plenty of culture and a multitude of high demand industries, New Mexico also has a lot to offer in terms of higher education. Large, four-year schools in the state include the University of New Mexico, Western New Mexico University, New Mexico Highlands University, and Eastern New Mexico University. Meanwhile, several prominent schools in the state offer online education options in addition to on-campus learning, including New Mexico State University, Western New Mexico University, and Eastern New Mexico University, to name just a few.
Still, there is more to New Mexico than just schools and jobs. Here are five interesting facts about the state that you probably didn't know:
- Enchiladas crafted at the "Whole Enchilada Fiesta" in Las Cruces have held the world record for the ""World's Largest Enchilada"" for many years. New Mexico also produces more chili peppers than any other state in the nation.
- Albuquerque is home to more than 300 hot air balloons and claims the title of Hot Air Balloon Capital of the World.
- Santa Fe, New Mexico is 7,000 feet above sea level, making it the nation's highest capital city.
- Lovers of culture and language will appreciate the fact that one third of New Mexicans speak Spanish at home.
- Around 1,000 reports of UFOs are officially registered each year in New Mexico.
What Makes New Mexico Ideal for Online Education?
Although educational attainment in New Mexico still has a ways to go, certain counties in the state boast higher numbers of college-educated residents than others. Based on information from the Lumina Foundation, we identified the following New Mexico counties as the ones with the highest percentage of residents with at least a two-year degree:
- Los Alamos: 71.89 percent
- Santa Fe: 44.01 percent
- Bernalillo: 40.44 percent
- Taos: 39.29 percent
- Sandoval: 38.84 percent
As you can see, the counties with the highest level of educational attainment all include the state's biggest cities. Santa Fe, for example, is part of Santa Fe County and near Los Alamos County. And Bernalillo County includes Albuquerque. Meanwhile, Sandoval County contains the region between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, which is home to many of the state's biggest suburban areas.
What do these regions have in common? Due to their larger populations, they have more colleges and universities to choose from. In other words, access to higher education in urban areas generally means higher levels of educational attainment. But, what about those living in rural areas of the state?
According to David Dunworth, Director of Online Education at Tribeca Flashpoint College, that's why online education in New Mexico and other sparsely populated states is so important -- it expands access to residents who may not be able to earn a degree otherwise. And it isn't always just a proximity problem; it can be a financial one as well.
"For many students, the escalating costs of attending a campus-based program can be far too high. In addition to tuition, the student must pay for housing and other costs associated with moving on campus," explains Dunworth.
In contrast, online education in New Mexico provides an opportunity to stay where you are and manage your schedule from a place that is already familiar to you. In short, it is less disruptive to students' lifestyles and habits.
"In many cases, students who are interested in niche programs cannot afford to move to a campus in order to get the education they desire and wind up taking coursework that does not inspire them or ignite a passion," says Dunworth. "Online programs can bridge the gap for these students and provide a way to pursue their true interests."
Of course, easy access isn't the only benefit that comes with distance learning in New Mexico. As Dunworth points out, pursuing online or hybrid education can be beneficial in other ways as well.
"Even if a student wants to get the on-ground experience, they can benefit from a program that allows them to take some classes online," says Dunworth. "This provides an opportunity for maximizing your educational opportunity while minimizing commutes and time on campus. It provides a level of flexibility and choice for the student. Ultimately, it should positively affect the quality of life for the student."
Top 10 Degrees in New Mexico
Although many on-campus and online degrees in New Mexico could lead to jobs with exceptional demand and high pay, some degrees and careers stand out. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor, we compiled this list of top degrees in New Mexico for aspiring students:
Occupational Therapy Assistant
Most people who want to work as an occupational therapy assistant pursue an associate degree in occupational therapy assisting. These workers provide assistance to occupational therapists and collaborate with them to ensure top-notch patient care. Thanks to growing demand in this field, employment of occupational therapists in New Mexico is expected to surge 43 percent from 2012 to 2022.
Because of the diverse language culture in the Southwest, it shouldn't be surprising that a degree in a foreign language, especially Spanish, could be a good investment. In many cases, degree holders in this field go on to begin careers as interpreters or translators. According to the BLS, demand for these workers could increase by as much as 42 percent in New Mexico from 2012 to 2022.
Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Students who want to master the use of ultrasound equipment usually earn a degree in diagnostic medical sonography. And with the use of this technology to diagnose injuries and illness on the rise, the future looks bright for this field. Specifically, the BLS predicts that employment of diagnostic medical sonographers will increase 40 percent in New Mexico from 2012 to 2022. Meanwhile, demand for cardiovascular technologists and technicians, another career related to this degree, is expected to surge 24 percent from 2012 to 2022.
With tourism so prevalent in the state, hospitality careers appear to be on the rise. Many people with hospitality management degrees transition into event planning and meeting coordination work for large resort chains and corporations. According to the BLS, employment of meeting, convention, and event planners in New Mexico is expected to increase by as much as 40 percent through 2022.
A degree in computer science can open the door to a number of promising careers. And in New Mexico, many of those careers are expected to see exceptional growth from 2012 to 2022, including information security analysts (38 percent), computer systems analysts (25 percent), and web developers (19 percent).
Since employers rely on marketing professionals for a wide range of advertising and public relations needs, a degree in this field could be an especially good investment. According to the BLS, employment is also expected to surge for many of these professionals. Job opportunities for marketing specialists and market research analysts, for example, are expected to increase 32 percent from 2012 to 2022.
Most students who pursue a degree in education do so in order to teach school at an elementary, middle school, or high school level. And thanks to a growing population in the state, the demand for teachers in New Mexico remains high. According to the BLS, employment of elementary school, middle school, and kindergarten teachers is expected to increase 26-28 percent during the next decade.
Physical Therapy Assisting
In order to work as a physical therapy assistant, most people earn an associate degree from an accredited school. Because of the increase in the use of physical therapy as an alternative to surgery, jobs in this field are expected to surge as much as 31 percent from 2012 to 2022.
Earning an associate or bachelor's degree in medical technology is the fastest way to get started in a career as a medical or clinical laboratory technician. As U.S. Department of Labor figures show, job openings for these workers are expected to increase 26 percent in New Mexico from 2012 to 2022.
Earning a degree in dental hygiene could help you begin a high-paying career as a dental hygienist. And thanks to the fact that demand for dental care remains high, employment of these professionals is expected to grow. According to the BLS, job openings for dental hygienists in New Mexico are expected to increase 23 percent from 2012 to 2022.
Top Cities for New Mexico College Students
As the most populous city in New Mexico and part of its biggest metropolitan area, Albuquerque is the state leader in population growth, industry, and culture. According to U.S. Census data, the city was home to approximately 556,495 residents in 2013. High levels of educational attainment and a low cost of living add to the region's popularity. As of 2013, a full third (33 percent) of Albuquerque adults had a bachelor's degree or higher. Meanwhile, the median housing value that year came in at an affordable $186,500.
Albuquerque is also home to its share of natural beauty and wonder. With the Sandia Mountains on one side and the Rio Grande flowing through the city, local residents enjoy numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation. The area also boasts a number of institutions of higher education, including everything from prominent four-year schools to community colleges. A few of the most important schools in the area are:
Central New Mexico Community College
With an enrollment of almost 27,000, Central New Mexico Community College is the largest undergraduate institution in the entire state. Full-time students represented only 31 percent of enrollment in 2014, which means that most students pursue part-time or evening courses that fit in with their busy schedules. Tuition for in-state residents for the 2015-16 school year averaged out to $612 for 12-18 credit hours, with additional hours costing $51 each. Out of their many career-oriented programs, Central New Mexico Community College is known for these three:
- Associate of Applied Science in Construction Management Technology
- Associate of Applied Science Licensed Practical Nursing
- Associate of Applied Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
University of New Mexico
As the state's flagship university, the University of New Mexico offers a wealth of educational opportunities for students from all walks of life. With more than 28,000 students in 2014, the school is also one of New Mexico's largest. Tuition and fees remain rather affordable, however. For the 2014-15 school year, costs came in at approximately $6,846. Although the University of New Mexico offers many top-notch programs, the following are a few of the school's most popular:
- Online Bachelor's in Business Administration
- Online RN to BSN Completion
- Associate of Science in Radiography
Pima Medical Institute
Pima Medical Institute is a small health care training institution with campuses across the southwestern United States. The Albuquerque campus boasts an enrollment of over 900 students and offers six associate degree programs and five certificates. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year came out to $11,734, and the school is known for these popular programs:
- Associate of Applied Science in Respiratory Therapy
- Associate of Science in Physical Therapy Assistant
- Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene
Although Las Cruces is the second largest city in New Mexico, its total population was only 101,324 in 2013. Still, the city has plenty to offer in terms of entertainment and natural wonder. Not only is it home to the Border Book Festival and numerous wine festivals, but it is hosts the Whole Enchilada Festival, an annual event which boasts the biggest enchiladas on record. The city also has its own Symphony Orchestra, several museums, and wealth of campgrounds and hiking paths in and around the local Organ Mountains. In addition, Las Cruces is where you will find the following prominent schools:
New Mexico State University
Founded in 1888 as Las Cruces College, NMSU has grown to become one of the region's most celebrated schools. Current degrees on offer include those in high-demand fields such as engineering, aerospace, and information and communication technology, among others. The school has received numerous awards and rankings from publications such as Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In-district students also enjoy an incredibly low tuition rate of only $5,950, as of the 2014-15 school year. New Mexico State University is known for the following popular programs:
- Bachelor's in Information Engineering Technology
- Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Online Master of Public Health
As a career-focused technical college, Visa College offers degree programs and certificates that can help students enter the workforce quickly. With campuses across Texas and New Mexico, as well as an online branch, the school aims to reach as many students as possible. The following programs are some of the school's most popular:
- Online Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies
- Online Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
- Medical Assisting Diploma
Dona Ana Community College
Part of the New Mexico State University system, Dona Ana Community College is a career-focused school with a wealth of resources for students. Not only does the school offer a number of associate degree and certificate programs, but it also has two-year programs meant to ensure a seamless transfer to a four-year school. As of 2014, enrollment included slightly less than 9,000 students, and tuition came in at $1,608 for in-district residents. Dona Ana Community College is known for offering these programs:
- Associate of Applied Science in Aerospace Technology
- Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene
- Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology
As New Mexico's fourth largest city, you might think that Santa Fe would have less to offer. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. The city is known for a unique look and culture that you simply cannot find anywhere else, with Spanish Pueblo Revival architecture, more than 10 museums, and one of the highest concentrations of artists in the United States. Even though the population of the city was only 69,976 in 2013, it still offers plenty in terms of economic opportunity. Current industries include everything from hospitality to health care and software development. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Santa Fe is also home to seven institutions of higher education, including these:
As a graduate school offering instruction in counseling and art therapy, Southwestern College maintains a focus on small classroom sizes and hands-on instruction. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year came out to approximately $28,000, although a number of state and federal student aid options may be available. Current degree options include:
- Master of Arts in Counseling
- Master in Art Therapy/Counseling
Santa Fe Community College
Santa Fe Community College offers a number of career-oriented degree programs for the career-focused student, many of which can be completed at least partially online. Enrollment in 2013 included approximately 6,265 students -- each enjoying an affordable tuition rate of only $1,494 for the 2014-15 school year. Although they offer many top-notch programs, they are especially known for the following:
- Associate of Arts in Media Arts
- Associate of Applied Science in Business Administration
- Associate of Science in Computer Science
Santa Fe University of Art and Design
With an average student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1, Santa Fe University offers small classroom sizes that set the tone for creative environments. Current enrollment includes approximately 826 students, and tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were about $30,136. The following degree programs are some of the school's most popular:
- Bachelor's in Business Arts Management
- Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography
- Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts
Scholarships and Financial Aid
Students attending either traditional or online schools in New Mexico are eligible for the same types of federal student aid as those living in other states. By filling out a FAFSA form, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, students can help state and government agencies determine whether they qualify for subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans, Pell Grants, and more.
The New Mexico Higher Education Department also lists a number of financial aid opportunities open only to New Mexico residents. Some of these grants and scholarships include:
- Legislative Lottery Scholarship Program
- New Mexico Scholars Scholarship
- State Athletic Scholarships
- New Mexico Bridge Scholarship
- New Mexico Competitive Scholarship
- Student Incentive Grant Program
- New Mexico College Affordability Grant
In addition to the many scholarship and grant opportunities available in the state, special loan and loan forgiveness programs may also be available. Students interested in traditional or online degrees in New Mexico can learn more about their financial aid options by visiting the New Mexico Higher Education Department, or by checking with their school's financial aid office.
A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#new-mexico
CareerOneStop, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.careeronestop.com/
Index of Grants, Loans, Scholarships, and World Study, New Mexico Higher Education Department, http://www.hed.state.nm.us/students/fa_quicklist.aspx
Key Industries, New Mexico Economic Development Department, http://gonm.biz/why-new-mexico/key-industries/
May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, New Mexico, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nm.htm
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Albuquerque, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/35/3502000.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Las Cruces, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/35/3539380.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Santa Fe, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/35/3570500.html