The University of New Mexico Best Student Essays

UNM Standards Rise as Education Disappears: The Top-Down Effect

I would like to paint a visual aid in your mind now, so that you remember the points I make throughout this essay. Picture the Statue of Liberty: crown like royalty, book in one hand, torch in the other as if to reach for the sky, calm sea waters all around her, standing tall and proud…better yet, BEAUTIFUL! Am I right? Now, let’s change a few things: change the book to “The Book of Education” in one hand, replace the torch with an empty hand reaching toward the sky for “The Perfect Standard” rope that’s just out of reach, replace the crown with a shroud, and now replace the calm sea water around her with quicksand, like that movie where she’s buried to her eyeballs in sand! Now let me ask you a question with this visual in mind: mentally you can see the hand, reaching for “The Perfect Standard” rope, right, but where is the “Book of Education”? Did it disappear? It’s under the quick sand, right? No! She’s standing on it, trying to grab the rope, which is always going to be just out of reach.
What is the point of this image?

My point is that UNM raising the admission standards for the incoming freshman class of 2011 fall semester to 2013 is a good idea, but it is being instituted at the wrong time and constructed incorrectly. With the entire country under economic hardship, forty-six states, including New Mexico, have cut deep wounds in education through state budget cuts. This visual of the Statue of Liberty serves as a mental picture of the current state of education in light of the increase in UNM admission standards.

An article in the New Mexico Independent, “Richardson proposes cutting education budget by $76 million” by Trip Jennings, (January 12, 2009) states that higher education would take a hit in funding by $40 million.(That’s more than half of the $76 million education budget.) In addition, this would lead to increased class sizes at K-8 and high school levels, eliminating the cap of 165 students per teacher and caps on how many students can take a given course. According to Katherine Miller, Richardson’s budget director, “This is temporary…the suggested cuts would last only a year.” But these were not the first cuts, nor are they the first time we heard of this only being “temporary.” The statements above have been passed on from governor to governor, like a family heirloom, for the past four years. “Temporary” has now become “recurring,” leaving the stress on students and faculty to take on more responsibility with less funding. Teachers and students have had enough and are taking action by raising awareness.

As recently as March 1, 2011, kicking off the “Month of Action to Defend Public Education,” students handed out flyers around the UNM campus and hung giant banners from the roof tops reading, “Got Budget Crisis? Cut Vice Presidents” and “They Say Cutbacks, We Say Fight Back!” Rallies have happened around campus to raise student and public awareness of the budget cuts on the table right now, asking people to stand up to our leaders in office and defend public education.

In addition, the American Federation of Teachers rallied at the Capitol building in Santa Fe, according to an article in the New Mexico Daily Lobo, “Teachers: Budget cuts hurt education” by Tricia Remark (January 18, 2011). More than 400 people attended to make their stand by echoing the same issues and voicing their concerns, with more of these “temporary cuts” in education proposed by our new governor, Susana Martinez.

This is the fourth year in a row that education has been on the butcher board and under the budget knife. Every “cut” is said to be a “temporary fix” but these “cuts” haven’t had time to heal and that’s a fact no one can deny. This is not just happening to New Mexico; this is a trend happening across the country and we are all left wondering why our education is falling behind that of other countries.

The harsh reality is thousands of papers are graded every day with run-on sentences, poor grammar, and punctuation mistakes at UNM. Students should have learned these basic skills in the lower levels of education, but we are still seeing these kinds of problems in colleges. The high schools are over-crowded, under-funded, and the teachers are overwhelmed and under paid. Yet, we expect higher standards from students without funding education for the students to reach the expected standards.

According to a UNM Today article, UNM Regents passed an increase in new high school GPA admission standards from “2.25 to 2.5 and curriculum requirements from 13 units to 16 units” (March 08, 2010). Additional units are now required in social science, laboratory science, and math, in addition to current requirements. “In the two years leading up to the vote, UNM sought input from communities statewide. UNM will continue to work with local schools to ensure that the necessary coursework is available to help students and families understand how to prepare for college success.” This sounds like a great idea that UNM plans to implement in the fall of 2011, except for one important detail. There is no mention of funding for tutors, equipment, materials, supplies, or teaching staff additions to supplement the new curriculum requirements. This leads us to the next point: money!

UNM raising the admission standards for the incoming freshman class from 2011 to 2013 is a good idea, but instituting this idea in the fall of 2011 sets the incoming freshman class up for failure. The construction of this idea starts from the top and is working downward, not giving the students what they need to succeed. Forty eight states, including New Mexico, have cut deep wounds in education through state budget cuts in these hard economic times. Think about the visual explained in the first paragraph. Disappearing under the quick sands of time is the current state of education, while the University of New Mexico is striving to reach for “perfect” admission standards for the future.

Setting a higher standard at the college level is not feasible when the lower levels of our education are suffering. Again, the Statue of Liberty Visual: can you imagine if we started with the crown and built everything else around the top, and only then worked our way down? This is what we are doing when UNM raises the GPA standard. In contrast, when the Statue of Liberty was originally constructed, we put the most recognizable statue in the world on a sturdy base, and worked our way up. If we want to be recognized nationally for our academics, then education should be built in the same fashion.

Works Cited
Jennings, Trip “Richardson proposes cutting education budget by $76 million” New Mexico Independent. 12 Jan. 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2011.

Johnson, Nicholas, Phil Oliff, and Erica Williams. “An update on State Budget Cuts; At Least 46 states have imposed Cuts That Hurt Vulnerable Residents and the Economy” Center on the Budget and Policy Priorities. Updated 9 Feb. 2011 Web. 23 Feb. 2011.

Remark, Tricia “Teachers: Budget cuts hurt education” Published in New Mexico Daily Lobo. 18 Jan. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2011.

UNM Regents Pass New Admission Standards.” The University of New Mexico UNM Today. 8 March 2010. Web. 8 Feb. 2011.

Added May 13, 2011

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Nominated by Nora Nixon, ISE 100 Introductory Studies English:

“This work started as an in-class essay on a topic regarding UNM’s new admission requirements. Roy Gonzales was asked to take a position, and he did extra research after writing his first draft in a blue book. The second draft evolved into a creative, well-documented piece on the status of education in New Mexico. It is particularly creative and unified with the metaphor and imagery of the Statue of Liberty. Roy also bceame involved with Students for Accountabliilty on Campus (SFAC), which is remarkable for an I.S. student in his third semester here.”


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