UNM-LA High School Equivalency Program Serves Diverse Population

Delancey Street residents who completed their HSE gather May 12 on campus with HSE speaker Nathan Lawson, second from the left, and Dr. Gabe Baca in his academic regalia with Alison Pannell to his left, and Linda Hull on his right. Photo by Nancy Coombs
UNM-Los Alamos

The completion of the High School Equivalency program (HSE), formerly known as a GED®, can be a life changing event for individuals, opening doors to college, better jobs, military service, and setting an example for their children.

The success of the HSE program at UNM-Los Alamos was evident at the May 12 graduation convocation during which 20 of the 32 students who received their New Mexico High School Equivalency (HSE) credential this spring proudly walked across the stage to receive a certificate.

 “Graduation from our HSE program creates opportunities for our students,” said Gabe Baca, the Program Manager for Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Community Education. “They are better able to compete for jobs and enroll in higher education. I know of one student who received a promotion and a two-dollar-per-hour raise upon earning his HSE. Four of our students were able to take UNM-LA credit classes while they were finishing their HSE credential, and five others have expressed interest in continuing their education at UNM-Los Alamos.”

The Rotary Club and the High Altitude Athletics Club have been long time supporters of the HSE program, providing scholarships for the exam fees to 78 percent of the students since 2008. Rotarians Linda Hull and Alison Pannell attended the graduation.

Hull explained the Rotary involvement. “In 2008, our member Gil Butler recognized that the Rotary could help support these students who have often faced many difficulties. Since then we have received a matching grant from Rotary District Funding, which includes all of New Mexico and west Texas. We are thrilled that we can help these students take this important step.”

The HSE program offers classes at UNM-LA as well as at various satellite locations: Pueblo de San Ildefonso, Delancey Street Foundation, Sangre de Cristo Women’s Transitional Living House, Bernalillo High School, Pueblo of Zia, Pueblo of Jemez, and the Los Alamos County Detention Center. Everything is coordinated through the Los Alamos ABE center, including hiring the teachers. Many of the teachers are retired from education or other professional fields.

The average age of this year’s graduates at UNM-Los Alamos is 27, with a range from age 16 to 55. One student who attended graduation is a 55-year-old man who has a college degree from another country, but needed the HSE in order to maintain his current employment. This is not an unusual scenario.

Ten of the students are residents at Delancey Street. Ayla, the education coordinator and a resident of Delancey Street explained. “These are people who have hit rock bottom. Due to their life situations, many of our residents left high school early. This program provides a real boost of confidence.”

The student speaker for HSE, Nathan Lawson, has lived at Delancey Street for 16 months. He disclosed that he once had little hope of furthering his education. Now with hard work and the help of UNM-LA he has earned his high school equivalency and plans to enroll in college classes at UNM-LA to study Information Technology.

The ABE program is entirely financed by state and federal funds. Although the Adult Basic Education Program is housed on the UNM-LA campus, its budget is separate from the UNM-LA operating budget. State and federal grant funds allow UNM-LA to provide classes and materials for HSE and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Funding levels are tied to enrollment, student attendance, and performance.

Once a student receives the HSE credential, the student is eligible for a Bridge Scholarship at UNM-LA, which covers the first semester. This can lead to eligibility for the New Mexico lottery scholarship, which can apply to the next seven semesters. These scholarships are specifically for students who have just completed high school or their high school equivalency.

“By New Mexico statutes, as a branch campus, our primary focus is on Associate degrees and Certificate programs,” said UNM-LA Chief Executive Officer Dr. Cindy Rooney. “But through ABE we are proud to also offer the HSE and ESL programs. UNM-Los Alamos serves a wide variety of constituents as we help meet the diverse educational needs around the region.”

For further information about the Adult Basic Education program, visit the website at http://losalamos.unm.edu/adult-learning-center/, or call Gabe Baca at 505.663.3400.