The Finish Line Fund - a collaboration between UWNCNM & The CNM Foundation

I could not attend class because I became very ill, which led to disability. I quit halfway in my semester with the intention of returning when I could afford it, but eventually gave up when the pandemic hit. Despite the affordability of community college, the amount was still out of my reach after rent, food, and medical supplies. I received an email from an advisor, which introduced me to the [Finish Line Fund] program and helped me navigate the requirements all within an afternoon. The scholarship put me back on track to becoming an engineer. I'm endlessly grateful for the opportunity this has given me as it is a second chance at a successful career.
- Finish Line Fund recipient
Summer Semester 2022

The current conversation around the soaring costs of college and the resulting student debt crisis typically focuses on student loan debt. However, there is another type of debt that significantly affects students’ ability to persist, complete credentials, and ultimately attain jobs—institutional debt. Institutional debt is owed directly to a college or university and may occur for a variety of reasons such as an unpaid fee or stopping out past a drop-date. If a student owes institutional debt, a hold may be placed on their account that prevents them from receiving essential student services until that debt is repaid, including registering for classes, receiving official transcripts, and in some cases, receiving diplomas.  

Nationwide, an estimated 6.6 million students are affected by institutional debt resulting in ‘stranded credits.’ Students of color and students from low socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately affected, which can greatly affect their academic and career trajectories (Ithaka S+R, 2020 & 2021). A student at CNM shared their struggle of having to choose their health over continuing their education, which incurred institutional debt: 

I had to quit my job because I was a high-risk pregnancy and was put on bed rest for the duration of my pregnancy. I wasn't able to work so I couldn't pay my tuition. I appreciate the funding I received from the Finish Line Fund! It's the start I needed to get back into my education and start a career in the Health Field.
- Finish Line Fund recipient
Summer Semester 2022

In 2021, United Way of North Central New Mexico put together a small working group to focus on the barrier of low-level institutional student debt and bursar/cashier holds in our area. The group was composed of staff from Amplify Consulting, CABQ, CNM, UWNCNM and consulted frequently with staff from UNM. The group found that there are no disparities among students who experience cashier holds at CNM and that the average amount owed is around $500. Additionally, in response to the pandemic, both CNM and UNM took measures to be more flexible with student accounts, including adjusting minimum balances before a hold is placed as well as adjusting the length of time before an account would be sent to collections.  

From these findings, UWNCNM partnered with the CNM Foundation to create the Finish Line Fund to support students with $500 or less in debt, prioritizing those with 75% progress toward a credential. This would not only remove a barrier for students to re-enroll and complete their studies, but also present a low-cost return on investment for the college. During the Summer and Fall 2022 terms, a total of $5,158.30 was awarded to 18 students. Two-thirds of these students have successfully completed semesters and re-enrolled for following terms. One student is in their final semester before their anticipated graduation in Spring 2023. The Finish Line Fund provides students a way back into college and career opportunities – a win-win for the students, CNM, and our community.  

 If you are interested in learning more about the Finish Line Fund or would like to donate, please contact Martha Hughes, Adults in Education Manager: martha.hughes@uwncnm.org 


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