By Marlena Hartz
Beverlee McClure, president of Clovis Community College, is a first-generation college student — her parents had no college or university experience. In a similar financial predicament as most of the students she now presides over, she once worked 40 hours a week for an insurance company while taking a full load of classes at a community college.
“An instructor said to me ‘You know what, you’re really smart. You should keep going,’” said McClure, recalling the community college instructor who motivated her to continue her education beyond the associate level.
The West Texas native has indeed “kept going.”
McClure, raised in Odessa by a mother and father devoted to ministry, is one of four finalists for New Mexico’s first secretary of higher education position.
Lillian Montoya Rael, community relations director of Los Alamos National Lab, dropped out of the race due to commitments at the Los Alamos lab, according to Gilbert Gallegos, deputy director of communications for the governor’s office.
The governor said he will choose the Higher Education Department leader “as soon as possible,” and according to Gallegos, will interview candidates starting late next week.
The Higher Education Department aims to improve access to state colleges and universities, and success rates among students. McClure served on the task force that recommended the new department leadership position.
“There is no person that sits on the government cabinet that represents higher education — no single voice that represented the interests of those in higher education, no place where we could say the buck stops here,” said McClure of the need for the new position.
McClure said she is in no hurry to leave CCC and would still be able to serve the college, in a somewhat different capacity, as the secretary of higher education. The new position, she said, appeals to her because there is room for improvement in the higher education system.
If McClure secures the position she said she will reorganize the Higher Education Department, mainly by consolidating agencies, and working with institutions to create a strategic higher education plan, as well as a common definition of student success.
McClure said the state could also make strides in affordability of higher education.
The Lumina Foundation, a private, independent foundation for education “gave the state a ‘D’ in affordability of education,” McClure said, indicating that although New Mexico tuition rates are comparable to other states, the amount of aid available to students in the state is lacking.
“We need more need-based funding. We have the lottery (scholarship) system, but that doesn’t pay for books, it doesn’t pay for housing,” McClure said.
McClure is optimistic that the failing grade can be raised.
“Gov. Richardson,” McClure said, “recognizes that higher education is key to the economic development and quality of life in New Mexico.”