Staff and Wire Reports
As the state’s first secretary of higher education, Beverlee McClure confronts a long list of challenges and increasing the number of college graduates in New Mexico ranks among her toughest assignments.
McClure, president of Clovis Community College, was named Thursday by Gov. Bill Richardson to head the newly created Higher Education Department.
In a press conference held outside of CCC’s library — built during McClure’s tenure — Richardson emphasized the need for higher graduation rates from the state’s post-high school educational institutions.
“I expect a lot from Dr. McClure. I expect her to drive a statewide agenda that ties together all our institutions to a common commitment that all our students graduate,” Richardson said.
In New Mexico, just 12 out of each 100 ninth graders will go to college and finish a two-year or four-year program within six years, according to a report that McClure helped prepare last year for the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education.
McClure was a vice chairman of the group, which recommended creating the new department and said that higher education needed to work with public schools to make certain students graduate from high school with the skills necessary for college or jobs.
“One thing we really do need to work on is student success and we cannot wait until a student graduates from high school to begin that,” McClure said. “So, what I think you’re going to find is better partnerships with the K-through-12 and college, to make sure that when someone graduates from high school that they’re ready for college.”
Students can become discouraged and drop out if they are forced to take remedial courses in college to make up for poor high school preparation, she said.
Richardson also cited McClure’s work with local economic forces as a measure of her willingness to incorporate higher education goals.
“Her experience in Clovis will be a major advantage, because she knows the link between a college and the local economy,” Richardson said.
The governor pointed out McClure’s involvement in helping bring the Southwest Cheese plant to Clovis, her recruitment of another company to work out of a call center facility near CCC and her help in staging the recent Base Realignment and Closure hearing — in an effort to convince national commissioners to keep Cannon Air Force Base off the closure list.
While saying the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces were still the two primary driving forces at the state’s higher education level, Richardson said there was another message in McClure’s appointment.
“For community colleges, the signal here is in picking a secretary from a community college,” Richardson said. “We want to emphasize that community colleges in our state and institutions like Eastern (New Mexico University) are going to be part of this change. And they’re going to be rewarded and given more attention than they have.”
McClure, 42, has been president of Clovis Community College since 1999. For two years before that, she was provost at St. John’s River Community College in St. Augustine, Fla.
University presidents and business leaders joined the governor in praising McClure.
They said she had the communication and leadership skills to improve coordination among universities, colleges and public schools as well as establish a better link between public education and employers.
“She speaks both the language of education and business,” said John Carey, president of the Association of Commerce and Industry, a statewide business group.
“Sometimes people in education and business talk a little different language and have a little bit different mind-set, and she’s a perfect person to bridge that gap.”
McClure’s appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate.
New Mexico State University President Michael Martin called McClure’s appointment “one of those watershed days” in higher education.
“The challenges in higher education in so many ways demand that it be a systems approach and particularly in this state — with as small a state as it is, without being an incredibly wealthy state,” said Martin. “It is time to come together and find a way that we can complement one another, develop programs, respond to changing needs, reach out to every citizen and serve them in ways we haven’t done before.”
The state is providing about $705 million this year for higher education operations — roughly 15 percent of the spending by state government from the general budget account.
McClure said she expects to begin work as the Secretary of Higher Education almost immediately, although Sept. 19 will be her first official day in Santa Fe.
The CCC board will meet Wednesday to discuss McClure’s replacement.
“They’ll decide who they want to appoint in the interim position,” McClure said. “Our executive vice-president here, Becky Rowley, is probably the obvious choice, in my opinion. She has strong leadership skills that would be able to take the college forward. But that’s absolutely the board of trustee’s decision.”
Barry Massey of The Associated Press and CNJ Correspondent Eric Butler contributed to this report.