An Advocate for Student Outcomes Shares What Higher Ed Can Learn from Health Care Administration

Barbara Damron was not only the first in her family to go to college, she was the first to go to high school. Driven by a passion for public policy-making and a calling for helping others, Secretary Damron’s health care career spanned more than 25 years, including work as an advanced practice nurse, educator, scientist, executive and finally an advocate for student outcomes and college completion. Her surprising progression from these roles to higher education policy executive began with her early career as a nurse educator and health system administrator.

Using Data to Strengthen Student Outcomes

Damron focused her work as a public health leader on amassing data and evidence to inform practice and improve the survival rate among cancer patients and others with life-threatening illnesses. Today, she sees a powerful analogy between health transformation and education and has worked to stress the importance of evidence-based student supports as a tool for improving outcomes. Secretary Damron likens higher education as the “primary prevention” and quality care for students before they enter the workforce. Her goal is to ensure students not only gain access to a college education, but that they succeed and are able to achieve strong outcomes after graduation.

“Educational opportunity is not only key to getting a good job in today’s economy, but it can also keep individuals out of the criminal justice and public assistance systems, and promote healthier and more prosperous lives for them and their family members. I feel that every day we work in the student success movement, we’re doing work that will save lives.”

Appointed by Governor Susana Martinez as Secretary of the New Mexico Higher Education Department, Secretary Damron has worked to put college completion, quality and workforce relevance at the center of the state’s higher education policy agenda. She has worked with faculty across all public colleges and universities in the state to develop a common course numbering and transfer articulation policy to ensure students could transfer hours from one institution to another without losing credits. Her focus has been on promoting quality and completion across the 31 two-year, four-year and special schools under her agency’s purview.

Policy Power Plays

Through her experiences in public administration and higher education leadership, Secretary Damron identifies three key federal policies to enhance student success and degree completion.

  • Recognize access is important, but completion is critical.
  • Develop stronger pathways to help students transfer and continue their education across institutions and systems.
  • Use data and research to develop evidence-based policies that can support today’s students.

Secretary Damron is a member of the Higher Learning Advocates Champions Network, a group of forward-thinking state and local leaders devoted to improving quality, outcomes and affordability in postsecondary education. For more information, contact