Department of Educational Administration


First Advisor

Brent Cejda

Date of this Version


Document Type



Smith, Kalith (2019). Responding to the College Completion Crisis in New Mexico: A Case Study of the University of New Mexico (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Nebraska, Lincoln.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Education, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership and Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor Brent Cejda. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2019.

Copyright (c) 2019 Kalith Smith


New Mexico’s funding of higher education has facilitated student access to college and helped the state rank fourth nationally in college attendance rates. However, the state ranks 47th in the country in college completion rates. A majority of students who enter college in New Mexico do not complete their degrees, a situation which deprives the state of the highly skilled workforce that is necessary to attract and retain business and industry. While low-cost or free college has increased attendance rates, the low college completion rate has incited an economic crisis for the state. The state’s flagship institution, the University of New Mexico (UNM), has made strides to improve student completion rates and witnessed success over the last four years. The achievements of such efforts in their first year are well documented, but the specifics of the steps used to accomplish them have not received attention. The research employs a qualitative case study to explore the phenomenon at UNM. Thereby, it thoroughly investigates the programs at UNM that were designed to increase student persistence and completion. The study covers the Gardner Institute Initiative, named the First Year Steering Committee at UNM and other efforts implemented to address concerns in completion. To this end, it performs a document review, interviews, and observations, and considers nationally recognized best practices. The paper includes recommendations regarding the applicability of programs and steps that may improve student graduation rates throughout the state.

Advisor: Brent Cejda, Ph.D.