The New Mexico Department of Education is winning half the battle: More American Indian students are enrolling in college.

But they're not staying for the long haul.

That's part of the battle we cannot afford to lose.

According to an Education Department study released earlier this summer, more American Indians are earning associate degrees and certificates in New Mexico than in any other state. Those numbers drop off for students attaining four-year or graduate degrees.

Secretary of Higher Education Reed Dasenbrock said the percentage of graduate and professional degrees attained by American Indian Students is roughly 40 percent of where it should be.

New Mexico has made strides. The number of those American Indians attaining bachelor's degrees has increased 34 percent from 204 in 1998 to 273 in 2007.

It is not enough.

So where do we start?

Higher education officials want to push for dual-credit courses in which students can earn college credit while in high school. Other states have been successful at this for years. New Mexico needs to catch up in a hurry.

We can create programs within our high schools to motivate our American Indian students.

A South Carolina program, Strive to Excel, works with parents and students to help them make college and career choices. Counselors take bus loads of students to visit colleges. Students get help with their applications and entrance essays.

We should look into similar programs.

Higher education officials cite geography as an obstacle and a reason why community and tribal colleges have higher American Indian enrollments.

We should make better use of technology. There's no reason why students shouldn't have more online classes available at four-year institutions.

We also can make sure American Indian students have counselors and mentors who work more closely with these students, people who will push them and show them the benefits of continuing their education. We need American Indians who have found success to give back and encourage younger generations to follow in their footsteps.

Our universities also need to make a better effort to recruit our American Indian students. After all, there are grants available for faculty and degree programs for institutions with more than a 10 percent American Indian population.

We hope the ideas keep the ideas coming, but the Education Department has to implement them.

It's the only way to keep the numbers going up for American Indians. That's how we'll win this battle.