Formed in 2011, a consortium of New Mexico community colleges has collaborated to obtain funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program. In 2014, eleven consortium campuses from around the state were awarded almost fifteen million dollars to create certificate programs for high wage jobs in the health care industry. I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) certificates are earned through Adult Basic Education programs. Through TAACCCT grants in 2012-14, New Mexico community colleges have made it possible for students to complete college certificates in fields like construction, early childhood education, health care, welding, electrical trades, plumbing, wind technology, farrier science, and pharmacy tech. Programs can be completed in one to three semesters, and instructors often team teach “overlapping” classes where reading, math and English skills are learned in the context of the selected career path.
Students are able to complete their GED’s while earning “stackable” credentials that can be used to find gainful employment or to lead into more advanced study in a chosen field. Some campuses have developed Credit for Prior Learning, otherwise known as Prior Learning Assessment systems, and have used grant funding to hire prior learning coordinators. Consortium colleges are working to establish standards and processes that would allow for the transfer of prior learning credit, which replaces course work on the transcript. The Council for Adult Experiential Learning (CAEL) is assisting the consortium in creating such a system. In addition,through TAACCCT funding, New Mexico’s Skill Up Network (SUN) is developing SUN Online, an online course sharing system. A task force of representatives from thirteen New Mexico colleges has been created to set procedures for SUN Online.
As of July of 2013, 257 students have participated in I-BEST programs at Central New Mexico Community College, the largest state campus, which serves over thirty thousand students. Given that Washington’s I-BEST students have experienced significantly more success in earning workforce credentials than students who earn their GED’s or high school equivalencies through traditional adult basic education programs (Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, 2014), New Mexico is hoping to offer similar programs for New Mexico citizens who lack the skills for gainful employment in fields where there are currently an insufficient number of qualified workers. Graduation statistics from existing programs in the state are not yet available.