Maybe the worst thing about poverty is its tendency to be self-sustaining. Poor people, almost by definition, have fewer options, which usually means they have fewer opportunities, especially opportunities to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Statistics show fewer and fewer Americans are moving upward from poverty, to the higher levels of income that enable choice, that foster ingenuity, that fuel personal and societal progress.
What’s true for individuals is also true for states. The poorer the state, the fewer its options, for investment, for innovation, for growth. Among the states of the United States of America, few are as poor as New Mexico, and few seem as stagnant in their poverty.
Here’s one snapshot of New Mexico’s present: the state has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Here’s one even more depressing snapshot of New Mexico’s future: 72% of the births here in 2016 were paid for by Medicaid. That’s also the highest rate in the country.
Traditionally, America’s engine of opportunity for personal, economic and communal development has been public education. In today’s economy, real opportunity for escaping poverty demands higher education., and in today’s New Mexico that means public higher education. Private higher education in the Land of Enchantment is small in scale, and even smaller in scope.
When it has come to investing in public higher education, poor New Mexico has been doing a lot. Only one state, Wyoming spends a bigger share of its State Budget on higher ed, and only 5 states spend more per capita on its college students. But only 5 states have lower 6-year college graduation rates than New Mexico. A state of impoverished students has a harder time creating and utilizing opportunities to break out of that cycle of diminished achievement.
Unfortunately, historically, there has rarely been a time when a poor state like New Mexico can expect less financial or conceptual help from outside its state lines. So fixing their problems is something New Mexicans are going to have to do themselves.
Chaouki T. Abdallah is the Acting President of the University of New Mexico. He obtained his Bachelors of Engineering from Youngstown State University in 1981, and his Masters and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1982, and 1988 respectively. He joined the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department at The University of New Mexico (UNM) where he is currently professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Between 2001 and 2005 he was the associate chair for graduate affairs at ECE. Between 2005 and 2011, he was the ECE department chair prior to his becoming the provost and executive vice president of academic affairs of UNM on July 2011, a position he held until December 2016. The Board of Regents appointed him acting president of UNM on January 1, 2017.
Professor Abdallah was the first recipient of ECE’s Lawton-Ellis Award for combined excellence in teaching, research, and student/community involvement. Professor Abdallah also received the school of engineering senior research excellence award in 2004, and was the ECE Gardner-Zemke Professor between 2002 and 2005. He served as director of ECE’s graduate program from 1999 through 2005.
Professor Abdallah continues to conduct research and to teach courses in the general area of systems theory with focus on control, communications, and computing systems. His research has been funded by NSF, AFOSR, NRL, national laboratories, and by various companies.