New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez speaks on Friday during an interview at The Daily Times office in Farmington.
New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez speaks on Friday during an interview at The Daily Times office in Farmington. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez says the current administration has made efforts to tackle the decline in higher education funding in New Mexico and to boost the state's high school graduation rate.

Before speaking on Saturday at the San Juan College commencement ceremony, Sanchez visited The Daily Times and spoke about education and the state's workforce.

Sanchez said San Juan College's School of Energy is a good example of high quality students who are graduating prepared for the workforce.

"That's a good opportunity to equip and prepare our people for jobs I believe that are so needed," Sanchez said.

Over the past six years, New Mexico has seen a drop of $4,588, or 34.2 percent, in per-student spending as student tuition has increased $1,214, or 25.4 percent, at four-year colleges, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report.

Sanchez said rising student tuition and debt is not just a state problem but one that affects the entire country. He said efforts in the last legislative session to grow the state lottery scholarship fund will help students afford college. Senate Bill 313 provided $11.5 million to help fund a shortfall in the lottery scholarship fund.

"We wanted to make sure we preserve that and it's available," Sanchez said. "It's a huge asset for New Mexico."

Sanchez said he believes the funds will help students until they earn their undergraduate degrees and land jobs.

"I think in many cases it is sufficient. Granted, there's always room for more," Sanchez said. "At that same token, if you look at the difference when kids get out of college that have some type of degree — whether it's two-year or four-year — their earning potential is so much higher versus someone that doesn't."

Sanchez said education is an important part of the workforce, whether it stems from colleges or trade schools.

"We really appreciate and understand the sheer importance of having a well-educated workforce. That's going to be the biggest economic driver for the state," Sanchez said.

New Mexico's high school graduation rate was 70.3 percent for the 2011-2012 school year while the national graduation rate was 80 percent that year, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report in April.

Sanchez said the graduation rate in New Mexico has increased over the last few years, and that progress is important.

The 2010-2011 state high school graduation was 63 percent. It remained at 70.3 percent for the 2012-2013 school year, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department.

Sanchez said the burden of a child's education is placed on teachers and instructors, but a student's ability to graduate high school starts with the family.

"We want to make sure mom and dad understand the importance and make sure their kid graduates high school and they are in a position that they are not distracted because they themselves don't have a good job," Sanchez said. "A stable family will ensure kids have the ability to go to school."

Sanchez also said no family shouldn't be concerned about whether the minimum wage is enough to maintain a stable household.

"The issue that they are making $7.50 an hour or $10 an hour with minimum wage, again, is moot because they will be prepared to be working in places where they can make twice as much as that," Sanchez said. "I know of a man that is making six figures in Artesia with a high school education, but he has a (commercial driver's license) and is driving for a trucking company. For him, the farthest thing from his mind is, 'Hey, do I make minimum wage or not?' No, he is making six figures a year. Those are jobs that we are trying to generate here."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.