American Indian students from low-income families are benefiting from educational programs designed to help them move from high school to college.

These dual-credit programs — where high school students take college courses that also count toward their high school graduation — are opening up opportunities that some of these students never dreamed possible.

Breaking the cycle of poverty by increasing those students' earning power promises to benefit all New Mexicans.

Beyond the credits, the students have the chance to experience college culture.

That gives them the opportunity to test self-doubts and vanquish groundless limitations.

So, what stands in the way? Money, of course.

Tribal college officials were told state money could not be used to fund the programs because their institutions were established by the tribes, not the state.

"That's just an excuse," W. Anthony Major Jr., Navajo Technical College chief financial officer, recently told the Daily Times.

Some of the tribal colleges shifted money from other priorities to fund the programs, but officials at those institutions say they cannot meet the need.

In fact, the New Mexico Legislature established a fund to reimburse tribal institutions for the programs, said Larry Behrens, New Mexico Public Education Department spokesman.

He added: " as of yet, the Legislature has not allocated dollars for the fund."

No doubt American Indian high school students would benefit from these programs.

About one-twentieth of the American Indian post-secondary student population earns a bachelor's degree, compared to about one-quarter for the general student population, said Elmer Guy, president of the Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint.

But we believe these programs can help reverse a downward slide in the overall quality of education in New Mexico.

In Education Week magazine's "Quality Counts" ranking, New Mexico was 35th among the states. In 2010, the education trade newspaper ranked New Mexico 24th.

A study done by the National College Access Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing college access and success, also shows New Mexico lagging.

Only 31 percent of New Mexicans 25 and older hold at least an associate's degree compared to 36 percent nationally. And the report states that in five years, the state will "face a significant workforce shortage" because there will not be enough qualified workers to fill jobs that increasingly demand postsecondary education.

One of the study's recommendations is that New Mexico "promote" dual-credit programs.

Failure to bolster education across the board will increase costs for the state's social safety-net programs and make it harder to attract businesses with jobs that pay well.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed increasing education spending by $101 million in the next budget. That's similar to what the Legislative Finance Committee recommended so it appears funding will grow.

The tribal colleges are looking for between $300,000 and $500,000 to support their dual-credit programs.

Some of the state's education funding should be shared with the tribes.