SANTA FE, NM – Stephanie Rodriguez was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Higher Education Department last week following her appointment by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Rodriguez joined the New Mexico Higher Education Department last summer and served as acting secretary since September of 2020. During her tenure she has fostered collaboration among New Mexico’s public and Tribal colleges and universities, and fellow agencies to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, improve communication, and develop committees and policies to improve outcomes for students and communities across the state.
"Secretary Rodriguez is a strategic and thoughtful leader and I'm grateful to the state Senate for their confirmation of her," said Gov. Lujan Grisham. "A proud Lobo with a depth of policy experience, she is fully invested in New Mexico students and in the higher education community statewide, and I greatly look forward to continued progress in getting New Mexicans the higher education and career opportunities they expect and deserve."
Rodriguez previously served as senior policy advisor for Gov. Lujan Grisham, overseeing policies surrounding public education, higher education, military affairs, and the national laboratories. She also served as director of field operations for Congresswoman Lujan Grisham, where she reviewed federal policies for their impact on New Mexico and engaged in community outreach. She also served as liaison for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on state initiatives surrounding equity and inclusion.
“As acting secretary, I witnessed firsthand the many challenges facing higher education in our state, and most importantly, the reality students face in accessing and completing a college credential or degree,” Rodriguez said. “A goal of our agency moving forward is to harness the fast-growing sectors and industries that exist in our own backyard, and to ensure that New Mexicans know about the educational opportunities in our state, and the many resources available to affordably pursue them.”
Rodriguez said that she looks forward to continuing to work with stakeholders and agency staff toward the development of a statewide strategic plan to guide New Mexico higher education for the coming years, and to continue to prioritize policies such as the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, course alignment and transferability, and like initiatives that make the best use of state resources while maximizing student impact.
“Secretary Rodriguez has clearly demonstrated the necessary acumen to lead the Higher Education Department. Her decision-making process is inclusive, and she has aggressively moved the department forward in a consistent and meaningful way,” New Mexico’s three higher education associations said in a joint statement. “Maintaining the momentum we have built together will help us find our way back to a new normal, and work to build a culture of higher education in New Mexico.”
Rodriguez is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and holds a Master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning. She was named a Provost Excellence Fellow for the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of New Mexico, and has served in both teaching and research roles at the graduate level. She is the first of her siblings to attain a college degree, the daughter of a TESOL educator at her hometown’s local community college, and the daughter and wife of migrants from Mexico.
The New Mexico Higher Education Department was established in 2005 and oversees the state’s public and Tribal colleges, universities, and special schools. It also oversees adult education and literacy programs statewide, manages state-funded financial aid programs and capital projects for higher education institutions, provides college readiness services via the GEAR UP program, and grants state authorization to private colleges operating within New Mexico. For more information, visit www.hed.state.nm.us.